By Bill Foley
For Bryce Gallagher, Christmas came in May.
That’s when the recent Butte High graduate learned he was being bumped up from the alternate list for the 71st Montana East-West Shrine Game to the West roster.
Gallagher got the call from Jeff Hartwick, the West team coordinator.
“He called me with like two weeks left in school,” Gallagher said. “I was really excited. I was actually in Coach (Arie) Grey’s class at the time, and he let me go take the call.”
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Gallagher had a spot on that roster high on his Christmas list. His name was called when the players from the Shrine Game were announced on Christmas morning. It just wasn’t quite what he was hoping.
“It was bitter sweet,” Gallagher said following a West Side practice Wednesday on Montana Tech’s Bob Green Field. “I was happy I was still on the alternate list, but I wasn’t completely happy with being on the alternate list. I would have liked to been on the roster starting right away, but here I am.”
Gallagher stayed optimistic about his chances of playing in the storied game, which kicks off at 7 p.m. Saturday at Rocky Mountain College’s Herb Klindt Field in Billings.
“I kept hope because we practice in Butte and they usually pick up the Butte guys if they need someone,” he said.
When a roster spot opened, Gallagher was the first to get the call he was hoping for since he watched the Shrine Game for the first time. That was in 2010, when Butte’s Bulldog Memorial Stadium hosted the game.
“I always wanted to be in the Shrine Game when I was young,” Gallagher said. “I remember watching it all the time. I’m just so happy I’m a part of it.”
He is also happy to be playing safety for the West. That is a position Gallagher will play when he reports to Dillon for fall camp with Montana Western next month.
Gallagher, who is playing with a broken finger on his left hand, played cornerback at Butte High.
“I finally get that opportunity,” Gallagher said of the position switch. “I played corner, and I liked it. Safety is what I feel I’m best at. I just like being the center field guy. I can be anywhere, help out over the top or come fill in the run. I love it.”
After playing special teams and serving as a backup in the Bulldog secondary as a sophomore, Gallagher started at cornerback his last two seasons at Butte High.
As a senior, Gallagher earned All-State honorable mention. He picked off one pass and broke up five more. He also earned second-team All-Conference accolades after racking 58 tackles, 38 of which were solo.
Gallagher, though, said he didn’t necessarily see his senior campaign as a success.
“As a junior I realized I had the talent to do it,” Gallagher said of playing in the Shrine Game. “I don’t feel like my senior season was as good as I wanted it to.”
Gallagher was one of 15 seniors on a young Butte High team that finished the season at 2-8.
“I don’t know, I just think I could have done better,” Gallagher said of his senior season. “I enjoyed it, but I felt like I kind of struggled a little bit.”
He does take some satisfaction knowing that the Butte High program is pointing up.
“They’re going to be good in the future because the freshmen are really good,” Gallagher said of the Bulldogs. “It was neat to be able to help coach up those freshman and give them the mindset to be great.”
That mindset has clearly already be established among Gallagher’s teammates on the West Side. Every player on the team is one of the best, if not the best, players on his high school team.
“I’ve never gone against anyone this tough,” Gallagher said of facing the West offense during practice. “The receivers are great, especially that kid who is 6-4, Matt Rensvold (of Polson). He’s a stud. Everyone is a stud. Everyone here. It’s just an honor to play with them.”
Gallagher, who is coming off a strong track season for the Bulldogs, certainly fits that description as well.
He is primed to follow in the shoes of his father, J.P. Gallagher, who was a standout defensive player for Montana Western. The older Gallagher didn’t play in the Shrine game after his career at Butte Central, but he did coach in the game.
Bryce Gallagher definitely took notice of his father’s career.
“They only played like eight games (per season) at Western, and he’s like third all -time in tackles there,” the younger Gallagher said. “Now they play 11 games, and he only played eight.”
Gallagher, who is leaning toward studying business at Western, is eager to get to Dillon to play for the Dawgs. While a redshirt year is probably likely, that isn’t necessarily the goal for Gallagher.
“I want to go in there and try to play right away if I can. I’ll give it my all, and we’ll see,” Gallagher said. “I’m excited to get out of town, but not too far. I can come back and visit all the time, and maybe my mom (Jennifer) can do my laundry.”
First up, though, is the Shrine Game, and the true meaning of that game is not lost on Gallagher.
“This is huge,” he said. “It’s for the kids.”
The game raises money for the Shriners Hospital for Children in Spokane. Last year’s game in Butte sent more than $100,000 to the hospital.
Gallagher and the rest of the West team received an emotional reminder of that meaning of the game when they met Shrine Hospital patients Sudha Davis and Kasey Morley on Saturday.
“It’s pretty inspirational to see people like that and know you’re playing for those people,” Gallagher said. “It’s cool to help out kids like that. They look up to us, and it’s really fun to go out there and play your hardest for them.”
That rewarding experience is part of the late Christmas gift that keeps on giving for Gallagher.
“I’m honored to be here,” he said. “This week’s been great. I love playing with these guys.”
Note: Butte Sports profiled the five Butte players playing in the Montana Shrine Game this week. Other players representing the Mining City on the West Side are Kiley Caprara, Nate McGree, Sam Johnston and Blake Burton.