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'He sacrifices a lot': How CCU's Teddy Gallagher rose to be a standout linebacker

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CONWAY — Teddy Gallagher sticks out like a sore thumb — if that sore thumb had a bleach-blonde mullet, allowing you to spot him from a mile away.

While the Coastal Carolina star linebacker's hairstyle may be a distraction to opposing offenses, it also represents something else about Gallagher — his extroverted personality.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but I had the bleached Mohawk last season,” Gallagher said. “It was in quarantine where everyone decided kind of that we were all going to grow our hair out into mullets, and then I decided to take it a step further and bleach it. But I think (senior linebacker) Silas (Kelly) and (senior long snapper) CJ Shrimpf were the first guys to fashion their hair into mullets.”

Ray Gallagher, Teddy's father, said that Teddy had a shaved head all throughout high school, and he was a little surprised when he saw Teddy with the a bright-colored mullet draping down his shoulders.

“I never want to stand in the way of my kids and their dreams, but that was one that I was hoping was fleeting,” Ray said with a laugh.

Teddy is also known for speaking his mind and wearing his heart on his sleeve, never mincing words during press conferences or on Twitter.

When the game against Louisiana-Lafayette was postponed due to a hurricane this season, Teddy said he would be willing to play the Ragin’ Cajuns in a Wendy’s parking lot at 3 a.m. if that’s what it took.

“I’ve been competitive my whole life,” Teddy said. “My whole life I’ve been pretty talkative on the field, that kind of thing, and I guess I’ve just had a lot more people come at me this year on social media.”

According to Kelly, Teddy gives a pregame speech every game to fire up the troops, then plays a big part in the locker room celebrations after a victory.

Some of the locker room celebrations this season have been a sight to behold, including when the team drowned a fake camel after beating Campbell and when there was a wrestling match involving someone in an eagle costume after the team defeated Georgia Southern.

"He gets up in there; him and our linebackers, him and Silas," CCU head coach Jamey Chadwell said. "They are pretty front and center, yeah. They like to have a good time with it."

But what doesn’t show up on the stat sheet is the passion that Gallagher played with, whether it was during a game or just in practice — especially since he played the entire season injured.

“From a playing standpoint, he’s obviously a really good player,” said Chadwell. “He’s tough — he played the whole year with a torn labrum and a torn meniscus. So his toughness that he has on the field, that carries over. He’s a great leader; guys know that he sacrifices a lot, and so that leadership is a big reason why we had the season we had.”

One of those guys who knows Teddy's leadership well is Kelly, who, along with being a fellow linebacker, is roommates with Teddy and considers him to be one of his best friends.

Kelly has dealt with a torn ACL and broken hand, which sidelined him almost all of last season, so he said he admires Teddy's grit to fight through it for the better of the team.

“Many guys, most guys, would call it in and get surgery at the beginning of the year," Kelly said. "They wouldn’t even think about playing through. But Teddy’s the type of person, he’s like, ‘Is this something that I can play through? And if it is, then I’m going to do that because I can’t let my teammates down and I’m going to suck it up and make sure that I can do everything I can do to help my team.’"

"That just takes so much heart and so much grit, and those two things are something that Teddy has in abundance," he said.

Teddy grew up in Pasadena, Calif., a city with a high emphasis on football. He played on a Pop Warner team that had around 10 to 12 players play Division I football and two who are currently in the NFL.

“It’s funny, Ted’s focus on football came as a little bit of a surprise because as a kid, he wasn’t a very big kid,” said Ray.

Prior to high school, Teddy actually focused primarily on baseball.

“His real emphasis prior to high school was baseball,” Ray said. “He’s an outstanding baseball player, but he was also a little guy.”

His freshman year at Loyola High School in downtown Los Angeles, Teddy decided to go out for football.

“So I dropped the kid off and he was all about 5-foot-3 and 110 pounds as a freshman soaking wet,” Ray said. “At his size they put him at defensive back and wide receiver, and when he was playing defensive back, all he wanted to do was hit the guy with the ball. It was kind of funny; he was just very aggressive and would just go after the guy with the ball.”

Ray said he would go after guys on the field that weighed more than 100 pounds more than him, an early sign that he meant business on the gridiron.

“He was a fun-loving kid, but when he stepped between the lines, I think something changed,” Ray said. “He just always became a little aggressive.”

Teddy’s first couple of seasons of high school football were a little rough, but the team saw success toward the end of his tenure there.

“We struggled a little bit in my first couple years in high school, and then towards the end we had a couple guys who are now in the NFL (David Long Jr. and Myles Bryant) that I played with, and we had a really good team,” Teddy said.

Teddy lettered at Loyola and has 60 tackles his senior year, including five tackles-for-loss and two sacks.

Teddy's high school coach, Marvin Sanders, recounted one of the moments where he saw Teddy grow mentally as a football player. Loyola was playing St. John Bosco, one of the top-ranked private school teams in the country at the time, and Teddy was filling in at linebacker for an injured starter.

"He (Teddy) got out of the gap and he (the opposing player) went for 70 yards and it was a touchdown," Sanders said. "I remember, of course, getting on him as a coach, but it seemed like that something clicked something in him ... and he said, 'OK, I love doing this, I have to focus.'"

Sanders also has some funny memories of Teddy, including passing him on the interstate when his car broke down on the way to a team picture at the USS Island, so Sanders had to give him a ride, and having to massage a cramp in his leg when the team was doing Navy SEAL training at Coronado Island.

The group did a five mile run around midnight on the beach while having to carry a teammate, and around 2 or 3 in the morning, the team locked arms in the water with waves crashing all over the place.

"Teddy is out there and he catches a cramp in the middle of this exercise and I'm standing there," Sanders said. "So now I have to jump in this really cold water at 3 in the morning to massage a cramp out of Teddy's leg.

"I told him I would never forgive him for that," Sanders said jokingly.

Teddy then went on to play football at Glendale Community College in Glendale, Calif. his freshman year of college, but was looking for greener pastures.

“Junior college in California’s a struggle,” Teddy said. “It’s like, lift some weights in a classroom..."

The junior college was essentially a stepping stone, knowing he would go bigger somewhere else, Teddy said.

That somewhere else for Teddy happened to be Coastal Carolina.

“Once I took a visit to Coastal, I loved the whole atmosphere here and Coach Sanders was here, he was my high school head coach, and that was one of the reasons why I came here.”

Sanders served as the Chants’ defensive coordinator in 2018, which was former CCU head coach Joe Moglia’s final season with the team.

“What happened is Coach Sanders came in in ’18, and as soon as he got here, he brought him with him,” said Chadwell, who was the team’s offensive coordinator at the time.

Sanders' son also played at Glendale in addition to Sanders coaching Teddy at Loyola, so Teddy was always on his radar.

"I told them to make sure they take a look at this Teddy Gallagher kid over at Glendale; I coached him in high school and I would love the opportunity to coach him," Sanders said. "...I took the job on a Saturday and I think he committed that Monday, or somewhere that close."

Teddy played in all 12 games in the 2018 season for the Chants as a third-string linebacker, and finally got his shot at extended playing time in the Georgia State game after Kelly hurt his shoulder and linebacker James Heft was also out.

“Teddy stepped in and I think he had like eight tackles or something in the second half, a sack and a couple TFLs,” Kelly said.

Teddy went on to start the final four games of the season for the Chants and finished the season with 53 tackles, good enough for fourth on the squad.

"I always knew it, even though there may have been others that didn't (know) why we took Teddy at Coastal, or why did we think Teddy would be a good player at Coastal," Sanders said of seeing Teddy's potential. "I think I've always had that feeling and knew he'd be successful."

In 2019, Teddy played 11 of 12 games, missing the season finale against Texas State due to injury, leading the team and was ranked eighth in the Sun Belt with 88 tackles on the season.

This past season, Teddy was a key part of the magical run the Chanticleer football team, tied for second on the team in tackles with 76, also adding 0.5 sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery, the latter allowing him to don the turnover cloak from the popular HBO series Game of Thrones that CCU defenders get to wear after creating a takeaway.

"It was awesome," Teddy said of being able to wear the cloak. "It means a lot more than people think. It is something that everyone on the defense really wants to be able to do every game."

Teddy helped the Chants finish their first-ever undefeated regular season, with an 11-0 mark that was the best start in Sun Belt history that also earned them their first-ever Co-Sun Belt Championship.

Teddy, who is coming back next season with an extra year of eligibility granted to fall athletes by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was named to the All-Sun Belt third team and the Phil Steele Sun Belt All-Conference second team for his efforts this season.

But above all, Teddy’s outspoken and often humorous personality is why his teammates love him.

“Teddy and I can sit on the couch in our apartment and probably at least three times a week, we’re going to laugh until we cry,” Kelly said. “We just have so much fun together and that’s the type of bond that we have. I’ve never met anybody that I laugh that often with and that hard with. So many times, we’re having so much fun and we’re laughing to the point of we don’t want to laugh anymore, but we can’t control it anymore.”

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