Football: Bryce Gallagher embraces leadership role in standout junior season


Joshua Sukoff/The Daily Northwestern

Bryce Gallagher (32). The Massachusetts native had a big game against Penn State, recording his first career interception and forced fumble.

Charlotte Varnes, Sports Editor

Nearing the end of Northwestern’s first quarter against Penn State, junior linebacker Bryce Gallagher watched quarterback Sean Clifford’s pass spiral.

As the ball moved downward, it seemed to be on a perfect path toward Gallagher. So he dove for it, intercepting the ball as he hit the ground. It was a joyful moment in a tense, rainy game, and his teammates surrounded him, jumping up and down.

NU couldn’t overcome the Nittany Lions (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten), struggling to gel offensively. But the Wildcats’ (1-4, 1-1) defense shined, and Gallagher led the way. The Massachusetts native recorded his first career interception and forced fumble, in addition to tallying six solo tackles and recovering a fumble.

For Gallagher, Saturday’s breakout was months in the making.

“It’s been getting more reps and feeling more confident out there,” Gallagher said. “Takeaways are a mindset, so (I’ve been) having that mindset of ‘Go and get the ball.’ We’ve been emphasizing that as a defense. Getting to see that carry over to Saturday was a good feeling.” 

After a quiet first two seasons at NU, Gallagher became a staple of the Cats’ lineup in 2021. He totaled 54 solo tackles, ranking second among the team. His 89 total tackles were good for 15th in the Big Ten.

Gallagher said his growth entering the 2022 season was a result of focusing on strength. He worked with NU’s trainers and showed up at practice each day with the goal of getting “one percent better.” 

Junior linebacker Greyson Metz said Gallagher played a key role leading the team during the offseason. Shortly after the 2021 season ended, Metz said Gallagher was encouraging his teammates to be ready for 2022. 

This hard work earned Gallagher the title of captain, an honor voted on by fellow players. As a team leader, Gallagher said he has prioritized helping younger teammates and passed on the same advice older players gave him.

“(I tell them), ‘You’ve just got to go out there and execute your job,’” Gallagher said. “‘You can’t make it bigger than what it is. You just gotta go out there and do what your coaches tell you, and trust your teammates.’”

As a captain, Metz said Gallagher has been a “servant leader.” He’s personable and sets the example for younger teammates in how he conducts himself everyday, Metz said. 

Mentoring younger and less experienced players has proved especially important given the defense’s injuries in September. Junior defensive back Garnett Hollis Jr., one of several players who have taken on a greater role in the unit, said Gallagher has been a “real leader.” He’s skilled at picking up the defense in tough moments and rallying them on the field, Hollis Jr. said.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald called Gallagher a “heck of a football player.” He was especially impressed by Gallagher’s performance on Saturday, saying his dynamic play lives up to the expectations for a team captain. 

Motivated by Saturday’s breakout, Gallagher hopes to keep the momentum going. As NU looks toward a tough Big Ten schedule, he has one thing on his mind.

“(I want) to keep helping the team win,” Gallagher said. “Whatever I can do to help us win is what I’m focused on.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @charvarnes11


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