In the early 90s, the Dallas Cowboys won three Super Bowls in four years. Since then, they’ve won a grand total of 4 playoff games in 26 years. But the Cowboys won the NFC East last year with 12 wins and they’re in the hunt again this year. A winning culture seems to have returned in “Big D” and that’s thanks, in part, to their big D.
Ottawa’s Neville Gallimore has been a very large part of that big defence in Dallas – a proud Canadian on the NFL club often hailed as “America’s Team.”
Dallas chose Gallimore – all 6-foot-2, 302 pounds of him – in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Prior to that, the 25-year-old defensive lineman had no less than 30 NCAA programs falling all over themselves, trying to recruit him out of high school. Gallimore eventually chose his dream school, Oklahoma, where he starred for four years and became the number one Canadian draft prospect for both the NFL and CFL drafts.
The former St. Patrick’s High School student is now in his third season with the Dallas Cowboys, one of the most popular, storied franchises in all of pro sports. His sophomore NFL campaign last year was derailed in August by an elbow dislocation in the first preseason game. Gallimore wouldn’t play again until week 14.
This year, he returned for a new Cowboys’ season, fully healthy. We spoke with the Ottawa native about his career so far, his hometown, and his wedding coming up in March.
Faces: As we’re talking right now in late November, you guys are playing extremely well. It sure seems like all the pieces are coming together in Dallas.
Absolutely, man. And it’s been a great experience. I think the beauty of it is that we’re still climbing. We’re still constantly grinding to get to that level where we’re playing the best ball possible. But I feel like we’re taking those steps. And the guys in the group are amazing. Everybody’s bought in. We love football, we love the game and we love playing for each other. When you’ve got that and a great coaching staff, the possibilities are endless.
What’s it been like to be a member of the Dallas Cowboys with all their history?
When you live in Dallas, when you understand the culture, and the history of what it is to wear that star on your helmet, man, you quickly fall in love with the Dallas Cowboys. The fan base is amazing, like, every game is a great experience. And the opportunities off the field out here are incredible. So I’m definitely proud to wear the star on my helmet.
You’re about to turn 26. Are you at a point where you’re really at home in the Cowboys’ locker room, maybe even a guy that’s starting to have a bigger voice?
I definitely feel like it’s being called upon me to have more of a voice because it is my third year and my knowledge of the game is developing. So I feel like I’m in a position where I can shed some light, but I’m also still learning in the game. So I’m always open to any information that’s given to me. I feel like the beauty of the NFL is that you just get better the more you play. The more you play, the more you get comfortable. So I feel like that’s kind of the transition I’m making, and then it’s only gonna get better. It’s only gonna slow down for me as I keep playing, as I keep developing.
I’d like to discuss what it’s like being a defensive lineman in the NFL. For example, how does your body feel at the end of a 60-minute game at that position, where you take hard contact on every single play?
If you’ve given it everything you’ve got after a game, you should feel pretty banged up. Every position on the field is a tough job, and I’m a little bit biased, but when you’re playing the defensive line position, you’re 300 pounds taking on about 600, 700 pounds, playing double teams, and every snap you’re making contact. But you know, you fall in love with it, you know what I mean?
But I will say every game you feel that soreness. Especially away games, because after you just finished playing, you shower, you’re back on a bus and then a three-hour flight. And no matter if it’s an early game or a late game, you get back just in time and then you gotta go do it all over again. But that’s why I make sure that I’m on top of my recovery, especially around this time of the year, when that body starts to weigh down on you. So you gotta make sure you’re getting your hydration, getting your recovery, putting the right stuff in your body. It does pay dividends.
Was it always going to be the defensive line for you? Was there a time when you wanted to play another position like quarterback or running back?
I thought I was going to be a running back. Growing up, I was watching guys like Brandon Jacobs with the Giants, and Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville). I thought I was going to be a running back. And then when I got to high school, my coach at the time (Chris Bromfield at St. Patrick’s) was like, “No, you’re going to put your head in the dirt. You’re going to be a defensive lineman.” I was like, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And fast forward, I’ve been in the league for three years and I’m a defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, so…
What’s it like to be in the NFL trenches every Sunday? I’d imagine things get pretty nasty.
It can get real grimy in the trenches. Playing defensive line, there’s an art to it. If you don’t really understand, it just looks like two big guys clashing every single play. But when you really understand the mechanics, when you talk about pass rush, you talk about hand placement, you talk about footwork, there’s definitely an art to it because you know you have to make a decision in a split second.
You have to react based on what the O-lineman or the offense is doing. You gotta make sure your eyes are right where they need to be, because one false step and you could not only mess up the play for yourself, but the 10 other guys. So I feel like it’s just paying attention to detail – and obviously that’s easier said than done – but I feel like that’s what makes the position special. It’s not necessarily about the physical. It’s the mental aspect too.
What’s the dirtiest thing you’ve ever seen during your battles with opposing offensive linemen?
I’ve gotten poked in the eye, a face mask grab, I’ve been tackled by an O-lineman, been picked up. It’s just part of the game when you’re in the trenches. It’s kind of expected that you’re gonna get somebody and you’re gonna get it back. So it’s just a matter of balancing back up and being ready to fight the next play.
Let’s talk a little about Ottawa and family back home. Growing up, how did your parents (Carlton and Merdiva) feel about you playing football?
Yeah, they’re definitely supportive. They’re from Jamaica and didn’t really understand it at first – especially my mom with the physicality that came with it. But they understood it was an outlet for me, rather than just kind of running around and being bored at home. So I definitely appreciate them for that. They gave me that opportunity to do something I love and they’ve been very supportive every step of the way – especially when they began to see it as an opportunity to set myself up for the future. Once they bought into that, the rest was history.
Any other family back in Ottawa?
I have two older brothers. Gary and Garry.
Really? What’s the story of two kids getting almost the same name?
I’d have to ask my parents. It’s funny, it goes Gary, Garry… then Neville.
Were your brothers football players too?
For the most part, I come from a basketball family. My oldest brother had a real interest in basketball and my second brother actually played overseas. So I’m the first one to take that step to pursue football.
What do you most look forward to when you get back to Ottawa?
The food, family and friends. You know, you always got those gems that you grow up eating. Both of my parents are from Jamaica, so getting that home cooked meal, those Mediterranean spots we used to go to, we can go get a cheese pie, a One for One or Gabriel’s Pizza, maybe getting a Beaver Tail when it’s cold out. I miss doing stuff like that.
What minor football teams did you play for in Ottawa?
I played for the Canterbury Mustangs, which I believe is now the South Ottawa Mustangs. I played for the Cumberland Panthers in the OVFL. I played with them for a year before going to Canada Prep Academy in St. Catherines.
What is your personal NFL highlight to this stage?
I was actually just talking to my fiancé about this. Last year, I was dealing with an elbow injury and my first game back was at Washington. That’s where my fiancé is from. And I actually got my first NFL sack. My first game back. So that was kind of a big deal for me. I felt like I needed to remind myself like, “Hey, you know, I’m in here. I can do this. I got it in me. I’m the guy the Cowboys need me to be.”
Speaking of your fiancé (Chelsie), it was great to see you guys at an Ottawa Senators game in Dallas last season. I’m sure Ottawa sports fans appreciated that you insisted on wearing the Senators’ jersey, even though the Stars came down to your seats and gave you one of their green jerseys to wear.
Man, that was cool. It was dope. I hate to say it, but I’ve never been to a Senators’ game back home in Ottawa. Hopefully, that’ll change soon. So I told Chelsie, “For my first Sens’ game, even though I’m in Dallas, I gotta rep my hometown.” But at the game, they gave me a Dallas Stars’ jersey of my own. So if you couldn’t tell, I had a half Senators-half Stars jersey going. And yeah, the fans were loving it. And then they started to get a little hectic like, “Hey, leave the Stars’ jersey on!”
So I was like, “Nah, I still gotta rep the home team.” It was all good fun.
How did you and Chelsie meet?
We met at a house gathering. When I pulled up to the house, she opened the door and instantly I’m like, “Man, this girl’s beautiful. She’s amazing.” But, you know, I had to play it cool, right? I gave myself a little bit of time.
I reached out to her and we started hanging out. The thing I love the most is that it was just so real. It was authentic. I felt like I’d known her forever. We just came out the gate, talking and cracking jokes. And the conversation was deep. Apart from her being so attractive, so beautiful, I just loved her heart. I loved her spirit. I loved how driven she was. I loved her mentality and the amount of ambition she had. And then it really didn’t take long, I’d say about a month or two, to where I was like, “You know what? I need to take this step. We just need to be together.”
And then fast forward to this past summer, I proposed to her. I was able to get our families and friends out to Dallas for the proposal. And now here we are, in my third NFL season and I’m doing wedding planning. We’re getting married in D.C. in March. So I’m definitely looking forward to that.
Dallas Cowboys fans – especially the ones in Ottawa – are hoping that’s not the only ring Gallimore puts on this year.
By Steve Warne