As Felecia Sheard watches Wayne Gallman in a Clemson uniform, she sees the little dervish who tested her patience, not a 210-pound college running back beginning to scratch the surface of his potential.
“Wayne gave me a run for my money,” said Sheard of her son, the lead back for nationally ranked Clemson. She remembers the call from a sitter, her cousin, worried that 3-year-old Wayne would hurt himself because he purposely and repeatedly rolled out of bed; that when he played with his cousin, Wayne liked to run into the walls.
Or after wearing out the adult men at reunion picnics, they would plead with her, “Felecia, you need to take Wayne home.”
When Gallman was moving piles of would-be blockers at Louisville and when he flattened that Appalachian State player at the goal line, “that was the Wayne I knew as a little boy.”
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Five-year-old Wayne was recruited for a youth football team at church by Ben Smith.
“I told him no way my baby was playing football,” said Sheard, a guidance counselor at Bay Creek Middle School in Grayson, Ga. After watching him crush another wall, she reconsidered.
The coaches called him The Beast, she said, and Superman because of his size and strength. Smith had seen other kids with similar gifts, like Stephen Hill and Marcus Ball. The fathers of new players would be drafted to hold the blocking dummies.
“The coaches would sit back and watch because Wayne always knocked the father down,” she said. “It was so funny.
Wayne was strong. He didn’t feel pain.”
Sheard was not an athlete.
“Both of my brothers played football and basketball, but no. I tried to play basketball and didn’t make a point all season,” she said. “I ran track one time and that was it.”
His father, Wayne Gallman Sr., was serving in the Marines when they met. “My understanding was he played ball a little bit,” she said. If there’s a genetic component, it would be from his father or uncles.
“I can’t do it,” she said. “His mom has no genes for that.
“He’s a natural.”
Gallman spent time with his father during the summers between the many deployments in a 24-year career. A running back at Terry Parker High in Jacksonville and safety at Valdosta State, he began coaching running backs this year at Middleburg High in Jacksonville.
After one of his son’s first games last season, former teammates called to marvel at the similarity of their running styles. “My old quarterback from high school said, ‘he leans like you.’ It’s uncanny.”
Shortly before high school Gallman asked to live with his father in Jacksonville. After a year he chose to return to rejoin his mother and sisters and enrolled at Grayson High.
His father watches from a distance but they text regularly between occasional calls.
“He’s really coming into his own,” Gallman’s father said. “It has to do with confidence. He’s definitely confident. The combination of being confident and being humble, that’s awesome.”
Grayson High coach Mickey Conn was ecstatic. Early on, Gallman rarely touched the ball. Coaches loved the physical component, so he played principally on defense, initially at outside linebacker.
“If people don’t score, they can’t beat you,” said Conn, a teammate of Dabo Swinney’s at Alabama. “He is an unbelievable linebacker.”
Conn used Gallman on offense in a playoff game as a sophomore, then began to rotate him at running back the next season with Robert Nkemdiche and Devin Gillespie from a Wing T formation. Nkemdiche is a standout defensive tackle at Ole Miss and Gillespie is a corner back at Georgia.
“We would line up in the I formation some and run him downhill,” Conn said. “He was just as violent on offense as he was on defense.”
Several colleges were deeply interested in Gallman at linebacker, including South Carolina.
“Lorenzo Ward would love to have him up there,” Conn said. “But Wayne loves running back. He just loves it.”
Conn featured Gallman at a practice when former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris visited the first time.
“That was all he needed,” Conn said.
As proud as she is of her son, Sheard worries about the pounding a running back absorbs. Conn hopes his limited time on offense in high school might be beneficial.
“I think it was good for him, too, not to take that beating on his body in high school,” he said. “Now that he’s carrying the load, I think it keeps him fresh and he’s able to pound it out up there.”
Sheard came to grips with the sport when she was searching for a way to channel his energy, but playing offense is different.
“I liked it better when he would hit people,” Sheard said. “Wayne would wrap you up. I liked that, but I know this is what he wants to do. I’m seeing it evolve. It’s scary as a mom because they get hit all the time. This last game, Wayne would have four people on him and he’d keep moving to get the yards.
“That’s Wayne. That reminds me of Wayne when he was little.”
The last time they talked about it was probably during Gallman’s junior year at Grayson. Sheard reminded her son that the average career for an NFL back is less than three years while a linebacker’s is much longer.
“I told him, Wayne, I really like you as a linebacker. I did,” she said. “He was like, ‘Mom, no. I want to be a running back.’ When he talks to you he looks in your eyes. That’s when you know.
“I had to just pray and go with it.”
Gallman has watched video of many of the game’s best backs. His favorite is Adrian Peterson, in his ninth season with the Minnesota Vikings.
“He never takes a play off,” Gallman said. “He always runs extremely hard.”
Gallman delivered what could be his signature play in the App State game, finishing off a 23-yard touchdown run by crushing a player at the goal line. At Louisville, more than 80 of his 139 yards came after contact.
“I’m playing hard, just trying to find something after the play,” he said.
Gallman is soft spoken and modest, but has a clear sense of himself.
“Defensive players coming at you,” he said. “You’ve got to go at them with the same mentality.”
Clemson seems to have enriched her son, Sheard said, and she insists “he has to get his degree.”
“I want Wayne to be a leader, a person who loves God, who continues to have that work ethic to continue to do what’s right. And to always know other people are watching,” she said. “I want whatever he wants for himself, and what God wants for him. It scares me, but if he goes to the next level, I want him to have success.”
Last year, she received a letter from him. He thanked her “for all those times that I fussed at him.”
“He wrote that, yes, it may have gotten on his nerves, but it helped him to get over things. Whenever he has any adversity, he thinks about how I pushed him.
“I didn’t even know he felt that way,” Sheard said. “I was just happy to get a letter.”
TIGERS vs. IRISH
Who: No. 11 Clemson (3-0) vs. No. 6 Notre Dame (3-0)
When: Oct. 3, 8 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson