At Saint Ignatius, as at many other high schools, the freshman football team is a place to grow, develop, and to prove yourself. That holds true for not only the student-athletes, but also the coaches.
Over the last decade-plus, Rodney Gallaway has more than proved himself to be an excellent teacher, detailed organizer, and a phenomenal coach on the freshman level.
So, it’s no surprise that he’s earned a promotion to the varsity level.
As we wrote here last week, Gallaway has accepted the role of assistant varsity coach for the wide receivers. Gallway steps into the role as Jack Hyland ’14 steps away to focus on his budding professional career, which will involve more travel during football season. Mark Ruddy ’90 takes over as head freshman football coach.
“Mark will be great for the freshmen. He has an easy going and approachable style the young guys will easily connect with,” Gallaway says. “Jack did a great job with our wide receivers. He’s been helpful in passing the torch. I hope our wide receivers continue to be successful. Jack has been great, he did an unbelievable job. I’m excited to keep it going.”
As it so happens, Gallaway coached Hyland on the freshman level. Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach Nick Restifo, Hon. ’19 also mentored Hyland as a player and a coach.
“Jack was phenomenal. For us, he was a drillmaster,” Restifo says. “He always found a way to keep the kids engaged, competitive, and giving them something new to improve every day. He’s a high-energy person. He’s a great human being, and I'm going to miss him. I know Rodney will step in and do a great job, too.”
Gallaway has done an exceptional job with the freshman squad over the past 11 seasons. The Math teacher became the freshman head coach in 2009 following a season as the wide receivers coach under then-head coach Terry Fergus ’72, who has retired as varsity running backs coach but will certainly be around plenty.
Gallaway was honored to take over the reins of the freshman squad for such a prestigious program.
“At my first Wildcats Roar in spring, Mr. Alexander says to me, 'You do realize that you're the gateway for one of the largest programs in the state, right?' That was an Oh Wow moment,” Gallaway says. “First and foremost, I look back and give thanks. I was surprised that Coach Kyle gave me the opportunity. I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity. It’s such an important job in a football program, especially at Saint Ignatius.”
Describing freshman football as a gateway is spot-on. Freshmen enter the football program with a vague idea of what the school and program are about, but it is the freshman coaching staff’s job to provide specific examples and guidance about how to be successful members of the program.
After all, before they roam the halls of Loyola Hall, the freshmen first traverse the turf of Wasmer and Kyle Fields.
“A big part of the job is introducing the guys to the program and expectations, and helping them learn how to be an Ignatius man,” Gallaway says. “You want them to learn football and put in the effort, but you want to teach them how to do the right thing. During the huddle at the end of practice, we ask the question, ‘Are you doing what you can to be a good person, son, brother, and teammate?’ You really have to lay stuff out for them and give them good examples. That’s been a really fun part of the job: giving kids that base foundation to set these guys up for success in the next few seasons and beyond.”
The task at hand can be very thankless, too.
Coaching freshman football involves a ton of administration and paperwork. The gig also includes helping with scheduling, which Gallaway did plenty of.
“Coaching freshmen is a daunting task in and of itself. The kids have no idea when they come into the building of what to expect,” Restifo says. “As a coach, you’re on-boarding the freshmen, making them feel comfortable and at home. It’s a lot of paperwork, so the coaches and kids have to be on top of it. It can be a tough job, so for him to do it for 11 years, you have to thank him for the hard work and effort. He did so much behind the scenes that no one knew about. I give him a lot of credit.”
But Gallaway’s good work did not go unnoticed to Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle ’69.
“Rodney is very organized. I really appreciate the years he spent being the freshman head coach,” Kyle says. “When he was a young guy out of college, we got him into the system and he did a great job in getting young kids used to Ignatius itself, not just our football philosophy. As a Math teacher, he’s in the building, and I believe it’s always good to have that. Kids appreciate that idea. We’re developing the young man in a complete way.”
And beyond the educational, spiritual, and administrative aspects of the job, the goal is to win.
Gallaway did plenty of that.
From the start, Gallaway enjoyed plenty of success. In his first season in 2009, Gallaway coached the likes of Mike LaManna ’13, Tim McVey ’13, and Rocky Zingale ’13 to a great season. The victories continued over the next 10 seasons, including a memorable 2018 campaign. With this year’s rising juniors, Gallaway achieved a perfect 9-0 record, not an easy feat.
“That was a fun season, but that was a lot of hard work,” Gallaway says. “It may look easy since we’re at Ignatius, but it’s not. Our 11 are just as goofy as the other team’s 11. They are all going to make mistakes. One time, I remember the ball bounced off a guy’s helmet during a punt, and there was a mad scramble for the ball. That’s about as freshmen football as you get – a punt bouncing off a kid’s forehead.”
As many fans will recall, Gallaway enjoyed plenty of success against St. Edward, or “That Team to the West,” as he sometimes calls the Eagles in reference to the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. Notably, Gallaway has led the Wildcats to wins in six of the last seven meetings, guiding the Wildcats to four victories in a row over the Eagles. The games have been closely contested as of late, with a 14-13 win last year and a 3-0 win in 2017 on a Declan Mangan 42-yard field goal.
Part of the reason Gallaway tallied so many wins is that he is a teacher, first and foremost.
A member of the Math Department, Gallaway’s first love is teaching. That’s the secret sauce of coaching.
“It’s not about how much you know, it’s how much you can teach the kids,” Restifo explains. “When I first started, [former Saint Ignatius President] Father Welsh asked me, ‘Are you more of a teacher or a coach?’ I remember answering, ‘You can’t be a good coach if you’re not a good teacher.’ Rodney is a good teacher. He imparts knowledge of the offense, and has a good grasp philosophically. He knows what we're trying to do.”
With all of the success in mind, Gallaway is excited for the new challenge. Mentoring wide receivers offers another chance for him to grow as a coach and to connect with young men.
“The nature of the freshman job is that you work with a group of guys, and then pass them off to varsity. So it’s hard to maintain relationships and keep up with the guys,” Gallaway says. “Getting to know them on a deeper level for longer will be nice. I’m also excited to work with our amazing coaches – Coach Kyle, Nick Restifo, Ryan Franzinger and the entire varsity staff. Anything you can glean from those guys is great.”
On the flipside, Gallaway will miss working with some Ignatius legends.
“One of the my favorite memories of the freshman job was spending time with the guys I coached with. Matt Petrus ’82, Tony Antonelli Hon. ’19, Rory Hennessey ’78, Matt Mooney ’85, Mark Ruddy ’90, Ryan Hough, Jeff Welcsh, Jack Duffy ’09. The one constant in freshman football is the people you’re working with. You get to know each other really well and you become friends.”
Gallaway will enjoy the chance to work with Kyle, and vice versa. Gallaway will also have additional duties on special teams.
“He knows our pass offense and the techniques needed to be successful,” says Kyle. “He understands the running game, too, and that wideouts have to block, they’re not just there to catch. And Rodney is open to growth. There’s more complexity on the varsity level, and he’s eager to learn and grow. He’ll help me with the special teams. As the head coach of the freshmen, he did that. During games, he’ll help me keep special teams organized.”
As for this season, Gallaway simply hopes to do his job in helping the Wildcats get to Canton and win some hardware.
“I’ll be working to help our team win our 12th state championship,” Gallaway says. “That’s the ultimate goal. I’ll do whatever I can do to help achieve it, and help our players play to their fullest potential. I’m looking forward to working towards that.”