Gallagher heals, adjusts to fulfill Shrine dream

Gallagher heals, adjusts to fulfill Shrine dream
Anaconda High School graduate Sean Gallagher is ready for what could be his last football game Saturday at the Montana East-West Shrine Game. (Bill Foley photo)

By Bruce Sayler

Take a look at Sean Gallagher and the automatic assumption might be that he is too short and too small to be an athlete.

His membership in the West Shrine Team football huddle speaks otherwise.

“I just the got the call and I was more excited than ever,” Gallagher, the Anaconda football-basketball-baseball star, said after the team’s final practice Thursday at Bob Green Field on the Montana Tech campus. “It has always been a dream of mine.”

He was first picked as an alternate following his Class B All-State season for the Copperheads.

“I was hopeful,” said Gallagher, terrifically generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds on the roster, said. “I did not think it would happen, but I got the call on Tuesday.”

Just in case what happened did, Gallagher disciplined himself to stay in shape.

“I played baseball and I’ve been in the weight room regularly,” he said.

The game, which matches the best of the West against the beasts of the East senior football stars from Montana gridiron programs last fall, will be played Saturday at 7 p.m. on Bob Green Field. It will be the 70th edition of the Montana East-West Shrine Game and is working hard on its second million in dollars raised for the Spokane Children’s Hospital.

Gallagher is happy to lend a hand, even the broken one he played with for much of his senior campaign. Actually, it was a thumb and it caused him to miss just one game, still leading Anaconda with 101 tackles — 73 of them solo and 9 for losses — three sacks, six quarterback hurries and four pass plays busted up in statistics provided by Anaconda reporter Blake Hempstead on his KANA Copperhead Blog.

Gallagher was while playing inside linebacker with the thumb in a cast. The West coaching staff has moved him, now healed, of course, to an outside linebacker spot for this game.

It is, however, where Gallagher played two years in the Anaconda program, along with doubling on offense at tight end.

“It really is different,” he said of the change back to the outside. “There’s (pass) coverage drops and I got the hang of it this week. We’re playing the same defense I did in Anaconda. But I still definitely needed to know where to go, where to be at, and to emphasize that I need to talk to everyone (on the defensive unit). Coaches (Brett) Bollweg and (Chad) Ross have helped me a lot. They’ve been an impact in teaching me how to play outside again.

“There are different coverages and they’ve helped me a lot.”

Ross is the head coach and Bollweg the defensive coordinator. Both were quite instrumental in guiding Whitefish to the state Class A crown last fall.

Gallagher was a three-year starter for the Copperheads, and saw some special teams duty as a freshman.

“I think that helped me in confidence,” he said about the early test in his playing career.

This year’s game seems to be especially stacked with families’ histories of playing in the honors contest. The Gallaghers are no different.

Sean Gallagher recently played in the Class B All-Star Game and pointed out that his coming or me. Participation in the Shrine Game follows that of his father, Pat, his uncle, Mike Gallagher of Butte, and his uncle, Shayne Skakles. Also, his uncle, Bill Gallagher, was an alternate one year and his cousin, Dan Gallagher, played recently.

“All my family played and then went to play college football,” Sean Gallagher said. “My dad and two uncles played in it. My cousin, Dan, played in it. So, I’m representing my town and my family here.

“I’m not sure about next year.”

He said will attend Montana Tech and has entertained thoughts about joining the Frontier Conference reigning championship Oredigger program.

“But, this could be my last game, too,” he said of Saturday’s showdown with the East. “This could be the last time I pad up. So, I have to put it all out there.”

They all will.

“It’s fun,” Gallagher said about the West camp. “Everybody is excited about the game. We want to make it 3-and-0, here.”

The ledger was a reference to Butte’s history in playing host to the game. Until 2010, the Shrine Game had been held only in Great Falls. Butte Shriners were able to try a turn in 2010 at Bulldog Memorial Stadium and put on an effort that raised a game-record $102,000 for the hospital. The West also won.

The game came back to Butte in 2013, but was held at Naranche Stadium. The nation-leading $146,000 sprung from the game to go to the hospital. Again, the West won.

So, Gallagher and Co. are working toward a similar result Saturday while the Butte and area Shriners are working toward another highly successful campaign to send a big check on to Spokane.

“The best part has been meeting some new friends,” Gallagher said. “We have kids from Class AA, A, B and C who are all playing for the West. Meeting the coaches has been great, too. I like our chances. We’re coming together as brothers. There are a lot of good athletes here and it’s an honor to play with the best players in the West.”

He reminded, too, though, that the East squad, which will convoy to Butte from its Billings camp on Friday, is also loaded. The East lead the Shrine Game series 38-31, including its 19-14 win last year in Great Falls.

“The game has the best in Montana,” Gallagher said. “You have to be good to play in this game. We’re getting sick and tired of hitting each other in practice. We’re ready to hit somebody else.”

Gallagher started at guard for the Anaconda boys’ basketball team and is on leave as one of the best players on the Anaconda A’s American Legion baseball team. He pitches and plays the corner infield spots.

Still, football remains his favorite sport, he said.

A lot of players in the huddle would likely say the same.

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