Growing up in Monroe, an hour east of Atlanta, they were the triplets. That’s what their mother called them, that’s how they introduced themselves and that’s what they were known in school, which made sense as they were in the same grade. In reality, Michael Gallup’s sister, Lydia, is two years older, his brother Andrew four months his senior.
They also are all adopted, Lydia from India, Andrew from West Africa and Michael from Atlanta. Despite the different backgrounds, though, they were closer than the majority of blood siblings, especially the brothers.
On Nov. 17, 2018, the day before Michael was helping the Dallas Cowboys defeat the Atlanta Falcons, 23-year-old Andrew Gallup took his own life. No one knows why. The last person he spoke with was Michael.
“He wanted to come to the game in Atlanta,” Gallup says. “We had a great conversation. It was so typical of our talks. There was no sign. He was so excited. He was going to bring some of his cards to have signed for his friends. I was like, ‘I got you.’
“I obviously had no clue that would be our last talk. It’s tough, so tough. Just so tough to process even however many months later.”
No one would have questioned Gallup if the remainder of his rookie season became somewhat of a blur. Instead, the third-round pick from Colorado State thrived, catching 26 passes for 359 yards and two scores in the eight games following his brother’s passing. That’s inclusive of the postseason, which concluded with a monster performance in the loss to the Los Angeles Rams: six grabs for 119 yards.
Despite just barely missing on several deep balls from quarterback Dak Prescott, Gallup still finished the regular season with 507 yards receiving, an average of 15.4 yards per catch. He became only the sixth rookie in franchise history to eclipse the 500-yard mark, joining the likes of Pro Football Hall of Famers Michael Irvin and Bob Hayes.
“It was a little bit different than most rookie seasons. I’m never going to be able to think about it without thinking about the tragedy,” Gallup says. “On the field, it wasn’t bad. At first rocky, started picking up some stuff in the middle here and there, some games I showed what I can do, and toward the end it really started to click.”
That momentum has carried into the offseason, more so communicatively than, say, running tighter routes or anything physical. During OTAs and minicamp, not to mention when the media wasn’t on hand to watch, Gallup was doing his best to become Prescott’s shadow.
“Almost after every other play,” the quarterback says. “If I came to him (on a play), if I didn’t, if there was a read route or whatever. Always coming right back to me asking what I’m thinking, when I’ll get to him, what number he is in progression. When you have a guy like that who wants to know that, that’s allowing him to set up his routes and get open. He’s taking the next step.”
Talk with almost any professional athlete, be it basketball, hockey or baseball, and ask a first-year player the most significant change from college, and the answer is usually speed. Everyone and everything is moving faster, like the turbo button on a video game. That was the case with Gallup.
Another challenge was developing a connection with Prescott, which the two clearly have now. But it’s not as easy as, ‘Hey, I’m Michael. How’s it going? Let’s be buds.’
“It’s more just being comfortable talking to Dak,” Gallup says. “As a rookie, I was sometimes scared to ask him anything or even talk to him. I’d ask (rookie quarterback) Mike White. It was tough at first, but now I’ve hung out with Dak, I’ve hung out with ‘Zeke’ (Ezekiel Elliott), so you know, it’s easier. It’s more simple for me asking questions without feeling bad or weird.
As for slowing the game down as his first season progressed, “I know the first game, Dak would say hut, and I was looking at the field and I’m just like, Everyone is moving and running and what am I supposed to do and how am I supposed to do it?
“Now, Dak says hut and I run my route and play ball. That’s me not having to think as much, and that’s me slowing the game down and saying, I already know what they are going to do so I can do what I’m supposed to do to be open.”
That Gallup is even in the NFL, never mind that everyone around the team and within the media think he’s going to break out in a major way this upcoming season and beyond, is a pretty remarkable story. He was never on a sports team of any kind until high school and his career seemed all but concluded after his second year of junior college. Like, the season was finished, he was in a walking boot and not a single Division I coach had called him, much less visited, recruited or offered a scholarship. Not exactly the typical background of an explosive starting wideout for the Dallas Cowboys.
Then again, nothing about Gallup’s upbringing was typical. The youngest of eight children, six of whom were adopted, Michael was 10 months old when the Gallups brought him home. After a few more additions, the family was a mini-version of the United Nations, two siblings from New Delhi, three from West African nations and two of their own, born in Georgia like Michael.
“Definitely as unique of an upbringing, environment-wise, as you can imagine,” Gallup says. “I’m from Atlanta, but my birth mom is from the Caribbean Islands so, you know, it’s different. You have to respect where everyone comes from. When I was a young, I learned that quickly. You see other families and everyone is the same and mine, we had every culture out there.
“My mom made sure we learned and understood each other’s cultures. We were home-schooled for a long time, until sixth grade, pointing out different countries on the map every day. I appreciate it so much more now looking back. No one else grew up like that. It was fun, too.”
Michael’s mother, Jenny Gallup, is one of those rare people who make everyone else look like they aren’t doing enough with their lives. Besides adopting six children and raising eight, even after her divorce when Michael was 10, she also does missionary work for ACTION International, going on several trips to Africa each year for missions. There’re also countless hours of charity work through the church, and oh, she worked full time as a property manager while the kids were growing up. And somehow still home-schooled them at the same time.
“She gets everyone, man. Everyone says the same thing, that she makes us all look bad with how much she does, how much she gives back,” Michael says.
While the youngest, Gallup emerged as the leader when his parents split, taking over such responsibilities as taking out the trash, mowing the lawn and trimming the trees with a pink chainsaw he actually chose for her. Anything physical, really. And while he wasn’t playing team sports – his mother had only so much time and one car, after all – Gallup was aware of his athletic gifts early on. Sure, he spent many days in middle school just fishing (his largest catch was a 13-pound bass) and driving his dirt bike, but on those rare occasions when a game broke out, whatever it was, no one could keep up with his talent.
“We’d go to church functions and I’d do pretty well at them,” Gallup says with a huge smile. “As I grew older, none of the neighborhood kids wanted to play with me anymore and we’d just go fish because I was that much better than them. And all of them were playing organized sports. I wasn’t.”
That changed when Gallup arrived at Monroe Area High School. For most, earning a couple of varsity letters is pretty impressive, five or six is simply staggering. The kid with the 4.4 speed and 6-foot high jump somehow earned 16, playing four years of varsity football, baseball, basketball and track. As a senior, with Gallup playing a lot of option quarterback and some receiver, his team went 11-1. Amazingly, despite playing those two positions, he still led the team with 29 pancake blocks.
Gallup did well in school, and was being recruited by numerous SEC and Big 12 programs as a wideout. The ACT and SAT proved a struggle, though, and he was unable to meet the standard scores, so the next stop wasn’t playing before 100,000 fans on Saturdays. It was Butler County Community College in El Dorado, Kansas. The same JUCO that Cowboys teammate DeMarcus Lawrence attended.
After a solid freshman campaign of 780 yards and 11 touchdowns, Gallup injured his ankle as a sophomore, the time and place when Division I coaches and recruiters are watching and offering scholarships. Limited to just four games, his numbers were minimal, nine catches for 74 yards and a score. Suffice it to say, his phone wasn’t exactly singing a ringtone from the masses.
“At community college, no one is knocking on your door telling you where to go, where to be,” Gallup says. “You have to go to class, figure out your homework. I mean, they know they have you for a couple of seasons, and if you had better options, you wouldn’t be there.
“There was definitely a low point – when I’m walking in a boot after my surgery. Didn’t have any offers, I didn’t have any film from that year. I was like, What’s going on? It was demoralizing. I was thinking of maybe trying to play at a Division III school or something. I didn’t want to end up back home.”
Sitting in his dorm room on an otherwise forgetful January night, one of his former assistant coaches from high school called to check in. Gallup was honest with him. Barring a miracle, the plan was to finish up school and come home. The coach said to give him 15 minutes, and sure enough, another call came. This time, however, it was Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo, who was friends with the assistant from his 14 years as an assistant coach at Georgia. Gallup had also attended 7-on-7 camps on the Bulldogs’ campus each summer of high school so Bobo remembered him well.
Bobo did his due diligence, called Gallup’s JUCO coach, watched some film and then offered a scholarship. Talk about a life-changing hour.
The gamble paid off more than landing on Free Parking in Monopoly, Gallup not so much making an instant impact as becoming an overnight sensation. As a junior in 2016, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound pass-catching menace tallied 1,272 yards and 14 touchdowns to earned All-Mountain West honors. In his last five games, he averaged more than 140 yards per contest. As a senior, despite frequent double-coverage, the final numbers included 100 receptions for 1,413 yards.
“It’s not a big college town, all the rah-rah like an SEC campus, but I cherish the people I met in Fort Collins, the little kids, the older alumni. They were so generous and kind,” Gallup says. “You would walk out every morning and see the mountains with snow on the tops. Lot of people can’t say they saw that every morning in college. It was the perfect fit for me.”
Growing up, Gallup wasn’t the kid dreaming of playing professional football. That never changed until the conclusion of his junior year with the Rams.
“I was always just out there trying to catch the ball and score. I didn’t really know stats,” Gallup says. “In high school and at JUCO, no one cares about your numbers. No one is writing about you in the paper. You are still playing with the track around the field.
“After my junior year at Colorado State, I realized my numbers were kind of out there with the best in the NCAA, and that’s the first time I thought, We could make something work here.”
The last year has proved more than challenging for Gallup, not only with the learning curve of any NFL rookie, but the unimaginable tragedy he endured off the field as well. Through it all, though, he has remained resilient, humble and above everything else, his mother’s baby boy, never far from her words and lessons.
“Grow up to be who you are supposed to be, and be a good person along the way,” Gallup says. “When I left the house every morning for school, she told me to be a good man. I mean, my whole life, that’s constantly been the message: Be a good person.”
There’s never going to be an answer as to why Andrew Gallup took his life. There aren’t always answers to our cruelest nightmares, solutions to our darkest days. There’s today and tomorrow, love and memories.