Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / McCallie's Xavier Gaillardetz beats two defenders as he makes a touchdown catch in the end zone against host Calhoun on Aug. 27.

Ask anyone connected with the McCallie School football program to discuss senior wide receiver Xavier Gaillardetz's numerous contributions to its 11-0 season heading into Friday's TSSAA Division II-AAA semifinal against visiting Pope John Paul II, and his glue-fingered, suction-cup hands are sure to start the conversation.

"Probably the best pair of hands I've ever coached," said the Blue Tornado's Ralph Potter, whose nearly 40 years as a high school coach includes two stints totaling 20 years at the top of the McCallie program, his alma mater.

"Xavier's bailed me out more than once," said senior quarterback William Riddle, a Tennessee Titans Mr. Football finalist. "Just get it near him and he catches it, no matter what."

Added wide receiver and defensive back Kenzy Paul, a high-level Division I prospect, of his fellow Canadian when asked if he was glad he didn't have to cover Gaillardetz: "Definitely. He's a menace. He's a game changer."

But ask the 6-foot-2, 202-pound Gaillardetz to pick his favorite moment of his one season playing for the two-time reigning state champions, and he doesn't mention any of his 14 touchdowns to date, his 53 catches for 1,139 yards or his outrageous average of 113.9 receiving yards a game.

"Football camp before the season started," he said. "The camaraderie. Two practices a day. Getting to know my teammates and coaches. It really challenged me."

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McCallie receiver Xavier Gaillardetz

The reason Gaillardetz is enrolled at McCallie at all is from a challenge not of his own making. He was a student at Virginia's Woodberry Forest School when COVID-19 concerns all but canceled the Tigers' 2020 football season, limiting them to a single rout of Fork Union Military Academy.

"They play their games on Saturday," Gaillardetz recalled. "We'd practice all week, then find out Friday afternoon that another game had been canceled. It was incredibly frustrating."

Meanwhile, several of his Canadian friends on the Blue Tornado roster — including Paul, Andrei Delinois and Thomas Pilon — were immensely enjoying the school's second straight championship and encouraged him to transfer.

"This place is pretty special," Gaillardetz said. "It's a blessing to have this type of community around me. McCallie really cares for its students and athletes as people."

The 18-year-old is a native of Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, a city of roughly 140,000 that was founded by French settlers in 1634 and is located midway between Montreal and Quebec City. Though he lists anatomy as his favorite class at McCallie, to listen to Gaillardetz is to believe he has three passions: football, football and football.

"I've loved football since I was 10," he said. "I want to play as long as I can, then I hope to stay involved in athletics as a trainer or something. I'm thinking of majoring in kinesiology."

In his love of the sport, he has found the perfect coach at McCallie.

"Xavier knows football incredibly well for a kid his age," Potter said. "He understands space and leverage. Plus, he fits into our school culture, into our team culture. And he's like all the kids we've had from Canada — they're all gracious and thankful to be here."

If all this sounds like he'd be the perfect recruit for a college program, his lack of a junior season and his absence at summer recruiting camps has kept him off the radar.

"Lots of people just don't know about him," Potter said. "But they should. He probably runs a 4.5 40. He's got those great hands, and he doesn't look as fast as he is because of his size. But I guarantee you he can play at the next level."

He has at least one more game at the highest level of TSSAA football.

Asked if it's been all he hoped it would be, Gaillardetz replied, "All that and more."

One guesses Potter and his teammates would say the same about what he's given the Blue Tornado.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.


Friday, Nov. 19, 2021

TSSAA playoffs

All games 7 p.m. local time

Class 1A quarterfinal

Gordonsville (11-1) at South Pittsburg (8-2)

Class 4A quarterfinal

Upperman (11-1) at Red Bank (9-3)

Class 5A quarterfinal

Rhea County (10-2) at Powell (10-2)

Division II-AAA semifinal

Pope John Paul II (8-4) at McCallie (11-0)

GHSA playoffs, second round

All games 7:30 p.m.

Class A public

Trion (10-1) at Wilcox County (8-3)

Class AAA

Ringgold (10-1) at Thomson (10-0)

Class AAAA

Northwest Whitfield (8-3) at Bainbridge (8-3)


Calhoun (9-2) at Ware County (9-1)