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Column: As high school free safeties go, few are better than Chaminade’s Marquis Gallegos

Chaminade free safety Marquis Gallegos sits and smiles in front of some free weights.
Chaminade junior free safety Marquis Gallegos has become a sought-after college prospect.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

In his football office last December, coach David Machuca of West Hills Chaminade Prep was sitting at his desk showing the newly named coach at USC, Lincoln Riley, video highlights of sophomore free safety Marquis Gallegos.

Riley kept nodding

“I got the body language that Lincoln Riley liked him,” Machuca said.

A scholarship offer came three days later.

Chaminade safety Marquis Gallegos makes a tackle during a game.

“His impact on the field and in the locker room have been huge,” Machuca said.

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In his junior season, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Gallegos continues to do things that make college coaches take notice. He has 30 solo tackles for the 5-0 Eagles, along with three interceptions. Last season he had four interceptions.

In a game against San Juan Capistrano JSerra, during a simple handoff to the tailback, Gallegos charged forward from deep in the secondary and made the solo tackle for a loss. It was as if he knew exactly what play was going to be run.

“He’s so instinctive,” Machuca said. “How did a safety get that tackle for a loss? How did he beat the defensive line and linebackers to the line?”

It’s called preparation and being “one step ahead.”

Gallegos starts watching video of his next opponent on Saturday and keeps watching videos all week trying to figure out where a play might be going.

“It all goes back to watching film,” he said. “It’s anticipation.”

He comes from a family of safeties. His father, Sam, played safety in high school at Sun Valley Poly. His older brother, Isaac, is a safety at New Mexico State. His younger brother, Xavier, a fifth-grader, is a safety.

“We’ve always been a defensive family,” Gallegos said.

The brothers used to cause quite a ruckus. There were balls flying in the house, pictures falling, vases breaking.

“Things are pretty mellow now because we’re older,” he said.

It’s still strange to see a free safety having the second-most tackles on an unbeaten team. That usually means the linebackers are struggling, but Chaminade has outstanding linebackers, so it’s more about Gallegos being a ball hawk.

So does that mean an opponent can burn him deep because he’s creeping forward to make tackles?

“They might try it a couple of times, but I’m able to adjust,” he said.

The position seems to fit Gallegos perfectly.

“I like being able to freelance and move around and be in open space and fly around,” he said.

Offensive linemen at Huntington Beach Edison High are among those exceeding expectations at midseason. A look at the other Southland high achievers.

Chaminade is a bit of a surprise at 5-0 under first-year coach Machuca, who took over for Ed Croson. The Eagles have impressive wins over Westlake Village Oaks Christian and JSerra. They haven’t faced a top-tier team in weeks and begin Mission League play on Friday night against Mission Hills Bishop Alemany, which is a running team.

Gallegos should get lots of tackling chances.

Chaminade has a good chance to be 7-0 going into its final three tests of the season — at La Puente Bishop Amat and home against Chatsworth Sierra Canyon and Gardena Serra.

Just understand that Gallegos is different. It’s a family trademark.

“We’re always determined and never give up,” he said.


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