FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- Few plays test a wide receiver's skills more than the screen pass.
The receiver needs good hands to secure the ball before quickly turning upfield. He needs a quick first step. He needs vision to see gaps in traffic. With few exceptions, he won't break free on quicks alone. A successful screen requires strength and, perhaps more important, the willingness to get knocked around a bit in order to break off a big gain.
The best college receiver many fans likely don't know much about doesn't yield an inch, much less a yard, when he plays. Gallup makes his mark not with one super skill -- he's not the fastest, tallest or strongest -- but makes up for it with an unrelenting drive to beat his man to the ball.
A Biletnikoff Award finalist and a consensus All-American, Gallup led the FBS in receiving yards for much of the season and enters Saturday's Gildan New Mexico Bowl against Marshall (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) ranked third nationally in receptions (7.8 per game) and fifth in receiving (112.1 yards per game). ESPN's Mel Kiper ranks the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Gallup as the No. 8 draft-eligible receiver for 2018, and scouts say he will rise on draft boards if he runs well at the combine.
It has been a bumpy ride for the one-time SEC recruit.
"I was always an underdog," he said, sitting in the field club overlooking Colorado State's beautiful new stadium on a chilly morning in late October. "When you go from playing in high school, thought you were going to go D-I, then you've got to go juco, wait a year-and-a-half to even make it to D-I ... to come out on top like I am now, that's a blessing."
Gallup plays like a guy who had to fight for all 2,617 yards in his career. He wins most 50-50 balls, which, as Colorado State coach Mike Bobo points out, usually go to the receiver about 30 percent of the time. Bobo can't remember a time when the first tackler got Gallup to the ground in the open field.
He also can adjust, as he showed while running a post-corner route on a trick play against Air Force, which resulted in a 55-yard touchdown.
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"He's looking over one shoulder and the wind caught it toward the middle of the field," Bobo said. "He's able to turn and reverse and catch it over the other shoulder, then keep his feet and score, like Willie Mays catching that center-field ball, running full speed.
"He's got great body control."
It was always this way.
"When the ball's in the air, he had to have it," said Stanton Truitt, Gallup's quarterback at Monroe High School in Georgia who now plays running back for North Carolina. "He was real determined. He was real strong with his hands. I would just throw the ball up, and I knew he would come down with it. Just a crazy athlete."
Bobo first met Gallup while recruiting Truitt to Georgia as the Bulldogs' offensive coordinator. Bobo remembers asking Georgia assistant Bryan McClendon about the long, lean player standing with Truitt at practice, and liked what he saw on film as Gallup played multiple positions for Monroe, including some quarterback. Georgia never made a genuine push, though, and Gallup, who had about 15 offers, ended up committing to South Carolina.
Poor test scores prevented Gallup from qualifying for admission. Hurt and "pretty embarrassed," Gallup ended up at Butler Community College in Kansas, where he led the team in receiving in 2014. An ankle injury limited him to three games the following season, putting his future in doubt. In January 2016, he received a call from Charles Winslette, a Hall of Fame high school coach in Georgia who had helped coach Gallup at Monroe.
"Where are you thinking about going?" Winslette asked.
"Honestly, since I got hurt, I don't know where I want or to go, or if anybody really wants me," Gallup replied.
Winslette had worked with Mike Bobo's father, George, another longtime Georgia High School coach, and told Bobo about Gallup. After watching Gallup's film, Bobo called the wideout.
"He was unbelievable in the screen game," Bobo said. "He was raw but he made plays. He was physical. He had a run-after-the-catch ability. They did a lot of screens with him, jailbreak screens and 9 routes. They couldn't tackle him."
Bobo sent Gallup clips of Colorado State receiver Rashard "Hollywood" Higgins, a first-team All-American and Biletnikoff Award finalist in 2014 who had 3,649 yards and 31 touchdowns in three years with the Rams. Gallup enjoyed watching Higgins take simple screens and turn them into 75-yard gains.
"I love taking screens, too, but mine were in a different way," Gallup said. "[Higgins] would juke and jive and make somebody miss. I'm just going to run you flat over, because I ain't got no juking skills."
When Gallup visited campus, Bobo made a simple yet convincing pitch: Come here and play the same position A.J. Green played for Georgia. Gallup knew how many passes went Green's way in Bobo's scheme. He immediately agreed to become a Ram.
Gallup knows he's not Green. He models his game more after Julio Jones, running around or through defenders rather than trying to flummox them.
Truitt, who ran sprint relays with Gallup in high school, said Gallup undersells his speed but bases his game on power. Gallup's stiff-arm is the best Truitt has seen.
"Usually you don't throw some of these receiver screens to bigger guys, they're more of your scat guys, but he likes it," Bobo said. "He'll catch it and he'll go, and they just fall off of him."
Away from the field, Gallup is laid-back and unapologetically country. Born in Atlanta but adopted before his first birthday, he spent most of his childhood in rural Walton County, Georgia, southwest of Athens. He grew to love fishing. After coming to Colorado State, he and teammates Detrich Clark and Collin Hill found local rivers and reservoirs to fish for bass and trout. Big-city living doesn't suit Gallup at all.
Told that he isn't the first star wide receiver from a Group of 5 school to embrace the country lifestyle, Gallup beams. "People would always say, 'You're kind of like Randy Moss,'" he said. "That's a good one to get compared to, no doubt."
From greats like Moss (Marshall), Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State), Terrell Owens (Chattanooga) and Steve Largent (Tulsa), to current stars like Antonio Brown (Central Michigan), some of the NFL's best wide receivers took the back roads to the big stage.
Perhaps Gallup is the next in line as he wraps up his college career Saturday.
"He's got a high ceiling, talking to the scouts," Bobo said, "He's still raw as a route runner, but they like his size and strength and ability to catch with defenders on him. If he continues to grow, he can play for a long time."