ach time Kyle Gallagher gets into his set position and prepares to take another faceoff, the Hofstra University freshman puts that incredibly scary experience further behind him.

But with each passing day that finds Gallagher going about his business — as an exceptional student and as an unexpected specialist for the 10th-ranked Pride — it’s clear that Gallagher’s first collegiate season will always be defined by an astonishing comeback.

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Hofstra freshman Kyle Gallagher, pressed into faceoff duties when incumbent starter Kris Clarke injured his foot, was only five months removed from spinal fusion surgery after accidentally diving into shallow water.

The Pride of Hofstra: Kyle Gallagher's Miraculous Comeback


ach time Kyle Gallagher gets into his set position and prepares to take another faceoff, the Hofstra University freshman puts that incredibly scary experience further behind him.

But with each passing day that finds Gallagher going about his business — as an exceptional student and as an unexpected specialist for the 10th-ranked Pride — it’s clear that Gallagher’s first collegiate season will always be defined by an astonishing comeback.

How could it not be? By any conventional measurement, Gallagher probably should not be playing this season, maybe not ever.

How can a young man — just three weeks away from his first college semester as a presidential scholarship recipient — suffer a broken neck after taking a nighttime dive into unexpectedly shallow water, go through fusion surgery to repair damaged vertebrae, report to school on time wearing a cumbersome neck brace and go on to produce a 3.96 GPA as an economics major?

How could Gallagher flatly turn down the idea of applying for a medical redshirt, even though he was unable to play lacrosse for the entire fall, wouldn’t shed that brace for nearly five months and wouldn’t be medically cleared to play until late January?

How could Gallagher, with such rusty skills and still miles away from being in true lacrosse shape, step into the unforgiving arena of varsity competition so early and with such confidence, after senior faceoff man Kris Clarke went down with a foot injury shortly before the season opener?

And how did Gallagher become such a spark behind Hofstra’s 10-0 start, the first in program history?

Let the head shaking begin.

“It’s almost a miracle that [Gallagher] is doing what he’s doing,” Clarke said. “I wasn’t even sure he was going to enroll this year. I figured he’d take the year off to rehabilitate for sure. He looked so unbelievably stiff when he showed up in that brace. I thought he was totally redshirting.”

“When Kyle got here, I was like, ‘Holy crap, this kid is coming into his first year of college with a broken neck,” added Brenden Lynch, a defensive midfielder and faceoff wingman. “I can’t say that I ever doubted him, but c’mon, this is crazy.”

“We’re talking about a cerebral, quiet, low-maintenance kid who is so focused and goal-oriented,” said Seth Tierney, Hofstra’s 11th-year head coach. “[Gallagher] has the largest amount of academic scholarship on the team, so he really gets it done there.”

“It’s always hard on a freshman when he gets hurt, because you can fall way behind,” Tierney added. “But to think that [Gallagher] came into his freshman year and couldn’t even play in the fall after suffering a severe neck injury that could have changed his life or worse — and is now doing this for us — is just incredible. At this point, our expectations [regarding Gallagher] are way out of line [with what he’s gone through.]”

Ask Gallagher to reflect on his most unusual journey, and do not expect a wide-eyed recounting of how he has overcome long odds and all of that.

Gallagher, who has taken more than two-thirds of the Pride’s 280 faceoff attempts and has won a solid 49.3 percent of his 174 draws, is still smarting from Hofstra’s first loss of 2017 on April 15 — and the role he played in a 13-12 loss to visiting Drexel.

Hofstra (10-1, 2-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association) coughed up an 11-6 second-half lead to the Dragons. Although Gallagher won 14 of 26 draws, his five faceoff procedure violations fueled Drexel’s cause. He also struggled in a 15-8 rebound win over UMass, in which he went 8-for-27.

“I’ve got to do a better job of clearing my mind when I go down [into a set position]. I can’t over-think beating the whistle,” Gallagher said. “Honestly, I don’t think I’ve done fantastically this season.

“This is obviously a high level. Given my unusual experience last summer, I guess I’ve done OK, considering I wasn’t sure if I was ever to going to play again,” he added. “It was a game of millimeters between walking or not walking, or possibly worse. I was close to fulfilling a dream to play college lacrosse, and close to being in a wheelchair the rest of my life.”

“It was a game of millimeters between walking or not walking, or possibly worse. I was close to fulfilling a dream to play college lacrosse, and close to being in a wheelchair the rest of my life.”


t had been a great summer of 2016 for Gallagher. As a product of Matt Schomburg’s acclaimed Fogolax Academy, the 5-feet-11, 192-pound Gallagher had spent much of his summer honing his faceoff game — often driving to workouts at Hofstra, located 40 minutes from his Long Island home in Northport.

Gallagher, who also had been recruited by Binghamton, Towson, Army, Navy, Air Force, Michigan and Fairfield, had committed to Hofstra on Christmas Day of his sophomore year at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, N.Y.

He capped his outstanding final two seasons with the Friars by winning 80 percent of his draws last spring and being named the Catholic High School Athletic Association’s Face-Off Specialist of the Year. He went out in style by leading St. Anthony’s to an 18-5 rout over archrival Chaminade to win the CHSAA Class AAA title, marking the first state title for St. Anthony’s since 2012 and the school’s first season sweep of Chaminade since 2001. Gallagher was named the game’s MVP.

In July, after he learned that sophomore faceoff specialist Tyler Liotta had transferred to Quinnipiac, Gallagher also realized the Pride were short on specialists, meaning he would compete in the fall for the No. 1 job with Clarke.

“Kyle was on such a roll,” recalled his father, Mike Gallagher, a former battalion chief who retired after 33 years with the New York City Fire Department.

That all changed on the night of August 12. Earlier that day, while hanging out with friends and family at a buddy’s beach house on Oak Island — located near Jones Beach — Gallagher and others had enjoyed jumping and diving off a dock into the Great South Bay.

Later that evening around 11 p.m. before turning in for the night, Gallagher decided to take another dive. Some four hours earlier, the guys had been frolicking in six or seven feet of water. It did not occur to Gallagher that low tide quietly had transformed his upcoming dive into a potentially catastrophic mistake.

Gallagher landed forehead-first in less than a foot of water. Luckily, he was not paralyzed on impact with a severed spine. But he was far from OK.

“I didn’t feel anything snap or break,” Gallagher said. “I got up by myself, but I couldn’t pull myself back up onto the dock. My [older] brother [Kenneth] helped me up. I sat there in pain. I didn’t think it was that serious. The next morning, I woke up in a lot of pain and had no [range of] motion in my neck.”

Kenneth soon drove Kyle back to their parents’ house.

“With every bump in the road, I felt severe pain shooting all of the way down my back,” Gallagher said. “It was easily the longest 20-minute ride I’ve ever been on.”

“That was the beginning of the worst five months of my entire life,” said Valerie Gallagher, Kyle’s mother, a middle school English teacher. “There are so many parts to his story, major hills and valleys. Was he going to play lacrosse again? Was he going to lose his scholarship?”


he phone call Mike made to Tierney, a father-to-father call, got emotional quickly. Tierney promised the Gallaghers that nothing would change, in terms of their son’s scholarship or his place on the roster. A locker would be prepared for him. Kyle’s healing was the most important thing.

“Mr. Gallagher was crying as he told me Kyle had landed on his head and had cracked vertebrae,” recalls Tierney, who in January 2015 lost a player, Joe Ferriso, who died in a car accident. “I remember sitting at my desk, staring out at our field, thinking, ‘This can’t be happening.’”

Initially, because Gallagher’s parents say the severity of their son’s injury was misdiagnosed at a local hospital, the healing did not begin well. He wore a protective brace, but he was in serious pain and needed major surgery — a fact confirmed by a surgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. On Aug. 15, Gallagher underwent a cervical spine C1-C2 fusion procedure.

Two days later, Gallagher was released, wearing a brace that would help the fusion take for good, possibly after as many as nine months.

Two weeks later, Gallagher attended orientation week at Hofstra, before beginning his semester. Gallagher wasn’t even allowed to carry a backpack. His teammates or coaches would help with that. Missing school was out of the question.

“Kyle is a stubborn, different kind of thinker. He’s very bright and motivated,” Valerie Gallagher said. “He wanted nothing to with the idea of redshirting. He wanted to be on that field. He settles for nothing but his best.”

While Gallagher confronted his adversity by producing his best in the classroom, the inactivity drove him crazy. He couldn’t run. He would do small sets of pull-ups in his parents’ basement occasionally during the first month, when he wore the brace religiously.

In the late fall, he was allowed to start working on his faceoff game — alone, with no contact involved and the brace on.

“Facing off in general puts a real strain on your neck. I would watch him [working alone] and wonder, ‘What’s the rush?’ But Kyle was so persistent about coming back,” Clarke said. “You could see him starting to get his hand speed and muscle memory back.”

“It was very awkward with that brace on,” Gallagher said. “But I was just happy to be getting down in that position again. When the doctor told me I could take off the brace, I wanted to burn it.”


Gallagher has taken more than 200 faceoffs this season, winning nearly 50 percent of them.


anuary 22 was a glorious day. That day, the fusion was declared compete, and Gallagher was cleared to play again. The season opener against Monmouth was four weeks away.

“I had to get back in shape, and it wasn’t easy. Once I got back, I went at it full-fledged,” he said.

Gallagher’s progress was remarkable. He started winning draws against Clarke. His conditioning and quickness improved steadily. Tierney figured it was time to plan on some repetitions for Gallagher in the team’s upcoming, preseason scrimmages.

And then came the moment in a scrimmage against Rutgers. Gallagher won the clamp, pushed the ball in front to himself, scooped it, sprinted for the Rutgers goal, shot and scored — then took a tremendous hit to his upper body and crashed hard to the turf. He lay there, as teammates quickly surrounded him and Tierney sprinted toward them.

“I thought I was going to die,” said Valerie Gallagher, who was watching with her husband.

“Kyle got his clock cleaned,” Tierney said. “By the time I got to him, he was up. I stopped him and said, ‘Look at me! Tell me if you’re OK!’ Kyle looked me in the eye calmly and said, ‘Coach, I’m fine.’ This kid has the skin of a walrus.”

That would show in the coming days, after Clarke suffered the foot injury that would keep him out for weeks. That left primary faceoff duty to the guy who was six months removed from breaking his neck.

Hofstra narrowly defeated Monmouth on Feb. 18 by an 11-9 count, in part because Gallagher struggled at the faceoff dot by winning only three of 14 attempts.

“I wasn’t too happy with myself. I pretty much got beat up,” Gallagher said. “I needed to pick it up.”

The following week at Princeton, Gallagher did just that. By winning 13 of 21 draws — and scoring his first collegiate goal — he helped the Pride offense gain enough possessions to edge the Tigers 10-8.

“[Gallagher] had earned a lot of respect with the way he’d come back,” Lynch said. “He earned our confidence that day.”

Then came another moment the following week against overmatched visiting NJIT. Gallagher was dominant, as he won 22 of 25 faceoff attempts. He also scored his first goal at James M. Shuart Stadium, and what followed illustrates Gallagher’s wry sense of humor.

At Hofstra, each player is encouraged to suggest a song to be played over the public address system by game-day staff after he scores. After fielding some clever stabs at dark humor from teammates, Gallagher chose his song, a composition that would poke fun at his ordeal.

Once his shot hit the back of the net, “Break Your Neck,” by Busta Rhymes blared over the stadium’s loudspeakers.

Indeed, Gallagher was back.

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