Neville Gallimore’s draft night, like the rest of the world in recent weeks, was unconventional.
The former Oklahoma defensive tackle was selected with the 82nd overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. Instead of being in Las Vegas in a fitted suit like draft picks traditionally are, Gallimore was with his management team in Frisco, Texas, where he has been training leading up to the draft.
The draft was moved to be done remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic, and Gallimore was one of 58 prospects to participate virtually. He was in Frisco, but he had a host of family members on a Zoom call waiting for him to get drafted — some of whom were in his hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, and some of whom were watching from England.
“We were getting a little bit antsy and wondering when he was going to get drafted and when his name was going to get called,” said Gallimore’s older brother Gary, who was one of his family members on the Zoom call. “Then we saw him put some headphones on and saw him put on a Cowboys hat and we just freaked out and all started screaming. We were so excited.”
Gallimore is used to following an unconventional path. While most players on the Sooners’ roster are from Oklahoma or Texas, Gallimore grew up in Ottawa, moved to St. Catharines, Ontario for his last two years of high school and became the first Canadian to be named a U.S. Army All-American.
At Oklahoma, Gallimore has been part of a particularly successful stretch for the Sooners — including five-straight Big 12 titles, three-straight College Football Playoff appearances, two Heisman Trophy winners and one Heisman runner-up.
The defense is what largely held Oklahoma back from reaching national championship games in 2017 and 2018, but that narrative was flipped in 2019. With first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, the defense shifted from a liability to a legitimate asset that occasionally carried the team in big games, and Gallimore shined as much as anyone under Grinch’s "Speed D" scheme.
With his unique combination of size and athleticism, Gallimore was the unquestioned leader of the defensive line and was named to the All-Big 12 First Team.
“He was so happy that he finally got to see his dream come true,” Gary said. “Being from Canada, I know that there was a period when he was down there where he didn't know what was going to happen at the end. In his last couple of years, his energy levels started to pick up and he started going. And then at the combine he ran a 4.79 (40-yard dash) and we got good feedback from his pro day, and he kept climbing through the draft ranks.”
Gallimore will team up with another former Sooner in wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, who the Cowboys took with the No. 17 pick in the draft. But another familiar face in Dallas may prove to be more valuable to Gallimore: defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who signed a three-year contract with the Cowboys in March.
McCoy played for Oklahoma from 2007 to 2009, was named a First Team All-American twice and was the third pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. His pro career has been equally, if not more successful with six Pro Bowls and four All-Pro selections.
With the combination of his success, experience and OUDNA, McCoy might be the perfect mentor for Gallimore as he enters the NFL.
“I remember when he first started getting recruited to Oklahoma, I talked to him and said ‘Dude, they’re trying to find that dominant three technique defensive tackle they haven’t had since Gerald McCoy,’” said Jethro Constant, who coached Gallimore in high school. “And now who is he learning from? Gerald McCoy. So the fact that his OU brethren is there to teach him and show him the ropes, I think he’s going to wreck it.”
One of the most enticing aspects of Gallimore as a prospect is his unique combination of his size, agility and speed — he measured at 6-foot-2 and 304 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine while running a 4.79 40-yard dash.
But what’s possibly more unique than his size and speed is his journey from Ottawa, to Norman, to Dallas. Only one other current NFL player is from Ottawa — Cleveland's Eli Ankou, who went undrafted in 2017 — which makes Gallimore the only Ottawa native in the NFL to have been drafted.
“It means the world to me, not only to represent Canada, but to represent my city — Ottawa, Ontario,” Gallimore said on ESPN. “Ottawa’s my city. That’s where my heart is. … As a kid I started playing football around the age of 9 or 10, and as I got older around high school, I wanted to play football in America. ... To take my ability and my talents, and have the opportunity to do that in the NFL means everything to me.”
Athletes often talk about repping their hometown as they continue to grow a bigger profile on and off the field, and Gallimore is no exception. But in the same way that Gallimore represents the city, those who saw him grow up in Ottawa feel that it represents him as well.
“I think that Ottawa represents Neville in the way that Ottawa is an underdog,” said Constant, who moved to Ottawa when he was around 2 years old and hasn’t moved since. “People don’t realize we’re the capital of the entire country. Whenever there’s a concert, most people skip over Ottawa and go to the big cities like Montreal, Vancouver or Toronto. … So Ottawa is the underdog where people just sleep on us a lot with the tiny football community.”
As the numbers of Canadians in the NFL suggests, the country isn’t known for being a factory for football stars. The flagship sport in the country is hockey, and the football players that come out of Canada often don’t go to blue bloods like Oklahoma.
“When it comes to professional sports that aren’t hockey, Ottawa doesn’t really have a strong presence, especially in the big ticket sports like the NFL,” Gary said. “But there’s a sense of pride because there’s a lot of kids who play sports in Ottawa. But what they don’t know is how to get from Ottawa, where there is little to no exposure, to a school like OU where there’s lots of exposure. So a lot of the pride is now coming from the fact that there’s a guy who made it, so now we have a blueprint.”
Both Gary and Constant pointed out a specific aspect of Neville’s NFL future that will serve as an inspiration for young Ottawans, even if their dreams don’t lie in sports: Gallimore isn’t just going to play in the NFL, he’s going to play for the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys are often called “America’s Team,” and are one of the most recognizable brands in sports worldwide. Gallimore’s selection to Dallas shows he’s reached a high level of prestige in his field, and his story is a what Gary described twice as a “blueprint” for success.
“The Cowboys are like the Los Angeles Lakers of the NFL, so there’s that sense of pride in that he’s going to a team that anybody who watches football can recognize,” Gary said. “And now there's also a blueprint for the younger kids, even if they don’t play football or play sports. They know that they can really work hard at something that is really hard to get to and actually get it. It just shows that there are certain intangibles in life that work: listening, working hard, being attentive, knowing who you are, being self aware.
There's all these things that go into achieving your dream and he just kind of makes it seem more realistic."