A star in the making? Pennsylvania freshman chased by top colleges in football, basketball

Pittsburgh Post Gazette (TNS)
Penn State

Within the next three years, Rodney Gallagher will have to make a college choice. But he will have to pick a sport, too.

Then again, he could try to play both major college basketball and football.

Gallagher is a 15-year-old freshman at Laurel Highlands High School who, all of a sudden, has become the subject of one of the most unique recruiting stories in WPIAL history.

Gallagher became a shooting star on the Laurel Highlands basketball team this season. The 6-foot, 157-pound point guard averaged 22 points a game and led the Mustangs to their first WPIAL title in 52 years. One day after Laurel Highlands’ season ended, Pitt coach Jeff Capel offered Gallagher a scholarship. Illinois and Rhode Island had previously offered.

But Gallagher’s recruiting story has another twist. In less than 24 hours, he received football scholarship offers from Pitt and Penn State.

On Wednesday night, Penn State coach James Franklin talked to Gallagher and offered a scholarship. On Thursday afternoon, Gallagher talked to Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi, who did likewise.

So Gallagher now has scholarship offers from Power Five conference schools in two different sports. That is unheard of for a freshman in the WPIAL. Heck, it’s rare for a freshman anywhere.

“This means I have a lot of thinking to do in the future,” Gallagher said of the two football scholarship offers.

Many chapters yet to be written: All ninth-grade athletes wish they had such a dilemma. But this recruiting story has many chapters yet to be written. More colleges are showing interest in Gallagher — for both sports. A coach from the Georgia basketball team just reached out to Gallagher’s father a few days ago to tell him they have Gallagher on their radar. Other major college basketball teams have also expressed interest in Gallagher, the first freshman ever selected to the Post-Gazette Fab 5 all-star team.

But don’t expect Gallagher to make a college decision any time soon. He has a “special” date in mind when he’d like to make his choice, but it’s not until his senior year and he’d rather not reveal the date. And he’s not ready to pick a sport yet, either. He’s a receiver-defensive back in football who made first team all-conference as a receiver and defensive back. He also played some at running back.

“Honestly, I have to do whatever is the best fit for me,” Gallagher said. “If I did have to actually pick a sport, I don’t know what I would do. I like them both. If I would have a chance to play both in college, and like the fits for both sports at whatever college I choose, then that’s going to be my choice at the end of the day to try both.”

The Pryor comparison: The greatest two-sport athletes in WPIAL history didn’t have major college scholarship offers in basketball and football as freshmen. Jeannette’s Terrelle Pryor is regarded as one of the best football-basketball athletes ever in Western Pa. In January of 2006, during Pryor’s sophomore year, he made a verbal commitment to Pitt for basketball after coach Jamie Dixon offered a scholarship. At the time, he was ranked the No. 8 sophomore basketball player in the country by one scouting service. North Carolina State, Xavier and Penn State also were interested. Pryor was 6 feet 6, talented and athletic. But he hadn’t started to shine yet as a quarterback on the football field.

Things changed drastically by the time Pryor headed into his senior year. He was a football phenom, a quarterback ranked the No. 1 player in the country by some. He eventually chose to play football at Ohio State and played QB and receiver in the NFL.

But not even Pryor had these college options as a freshman — and Gallagher is well aware of Pryor’s story. When Gallagher was playing youth baseball, he tells a story of how Pryor was friends with one of his coaches.

“I remember (Pryor) came to a couple of my games. I got this little Jeannette helmet from him,” Gallagher said with a laugh. “But I remember back then watching his highlights and seeing how good he was at both sports. He’s probably one of the best to ever come out of here. I remember me wanting to be that type of player. Maybe I’m starting to fill his shoes a little bit. But me getting any kind of comparisons to that type of guy is just crazy.”

Revis might be better comparison: Considering Gallagher’s football and basketball talents, his size and his situation, he might be best compared to Darrelle Revis, a former two-sport star at Aliquippa and defensive back in the NFL. Early in his high school days, Revis thought his future was in basketball and Division I colleges were interested. He came on strong in basketball as a sophomore and led the WPIAL in scoring as a junior. He was about the same size as Gallagher and even built similar to Gallagher. In a Post-Gazette story earlier this week, Revis commented how he remembers waiting for a growth spurt to be a better prospect in basketball. The growth spurt never came and his stock as a defensive back in football rose considerably as a junior and senior.

Revis committed to Pitt for football as a senior but said he hoped to play both football and basketball for the Panthers. He never played basketball at Pitt. He was too good in football.

Size will be factor: Gallagher acknowledged that how heavily he will be recruited in basketball might depend on how much more he grows. Gallagher insists he doesn’t favor one sport over the other. But right now, with schools closed because of COVID-19 concerns, he’s just trying to stay in shape the best he can.

“I’m lifting weights on my own,” Gallagher said. “I’ll go up to the field, too, and just work on my footwork and speed. The (college) football coaches said they’re just recruiting me as an athlete and seeing whatever position fits me best, receiver or defensive back.”

Or whatever sport fits him best.