By Michael Bower
When Mark Gallant was called up to Del Norte High varsity football team for its first playoff game in program history last year, he didn’t expect to see any playing time.
But when the second half rolled around, the then 5-foot, 7-inch, 145-pound sophomore got his shot. And after his eight carries for 58 yards, including a 38-yard TD performance, Gallant decided to pour his soul into becoming a better football player.
“It was my first taste of varsity and it kind of led me to believe that I had a chance at starting this year,” said Gallant, now a 5-foot-9, 165-pound junior. “It got me thinking about getting ready for the next season. I was excited.”
Turns out those few carries in last year’s playoff game was just a sneak preview of things to come. Gallant burst onto the scene this season, piling up 980 yards through the Nighthawks’ 11 games.
The explosive back ran for 165 of those yards on 22 carries last Friday in Del Norte’s first home playoff game in the three-year program history. He had a 7-yard TD run and even threw a 4-yard TD pass to help the eighth-seeded Nighthawks beat No. 9 Mission Bay 34-28 in the CIF San Diego Section Division IV opening round.
It was the program’s first postseason victory, first three-game winning streak and secured a school record of six wins in a season.
For his efforts, Gallant is the Toyota of Poway Athlete of the Week.
“My offensive line and my blockers did all of the work this last game,” said Gallant, who moved from Newbury, Mass., to the San Diego area while in the fourth grade. “It was just a great win for our school. Walking out of the stadium Friday night and hearing all of the congrats ... I was at a loss for words. It really was a huge step for the school and the entire sports program.”
But helping the Del Norte football team make history and set school records is not what this season has been about for Gallant. Sure, he enjoys the winning and improving as a program, but there is something else that has made this season special for him.
“It’s not about the stats,” Gallant said. “It is about the bonding we have as a team this year. We are a very tight team. Coach Leigh Cole helped us get to know each other on a personal level and on the football field. That was the main accomplishment we have had. I feel like every one of these guys I can ride and die for.”
Gallant, who played baseball his freshman and sophomore years, had been torn about returning to the diamond again this season. But he said he recently reached the decision to quit baseball and concentrate on becoming a better football player in the offseason.
“I told myself that if I did well this year playing football I would quit baseball,” he said. “I might have a bright future in the sport that I love so I am going to quit baseball so I can go to football camps and workout in the offseason.”
Gallant and the Nighthawks have a tall task Friday night, traveling to No. 1 St. Augustine for a quarterfinal game (kickoff at 7 p.m.). The Saints lost in the section championship game and have been playing like a team on a mission as of late, winning five of their last six games.
But as Gallant pointed out, the team is use to being the underdog.
“We have been underdogs for almost every game this season — probably about eight of them — but we have six wins,” he said.