It’s a daily occurrence to have Chris Callahan, a Turlock High senior water polo player, pull himself out of the pool with his teammates and opponents to only find himself out of place. His muscular physique is not very common for a high school student and his towering height is a neck-bender.
“He’s a man among boys,” said his coach, Steve Feaver.
But his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame isn’t just for show. Callahan is legit, according to his veteran coach and the fear that seems to be in the eyes of his Central California Conference opponents before they face the center-forward. He’s leading the Bulldogs in goals (26) and draw ejections (21), as well as shooting at a 40-percent average.
His massive build will once again be needed Thursday afternoon, when the Bulldogs (1-0 CCC, 8-3 overall) take on Buhach Colony High in Atwater.
“Most opponents we have, they look at him in awe,” Feaver said.
The thing is, Callahan says he’s been at his current build since his freshman season, when he first began water polo — albeit his body fat is much less and his muscles are bigger than ever before. His approach to his sport began to change at the end of last season, after he led the Bulldogs with 50 drawn ejections and was second in scoring with 59 goals.
He’s always been a staple in the weight room, but sometimes even that didn’t cut it. So before summer started, he competed with the Central Valley Olympic Development Program under Pitman High coach Drew Clute. That helped, but he looked for other ways to stay in shape.
He found it under the hot sun.
He worked for a local farm doing all the normal farm activities. He drove tractors around, shoveled dirt, cleaned up after cows and other farm animals and bucked hay. All the chores not only earned him money but also provided the kind of brute force that a gym membership couldn’t.
Not that he needed any more motivation. Three of his siblings — Megan Zupanzic (2000), Bryce Callahan (2007) and Erin Callahan (2008) — graduated from Turlock High, with Megan’s playing days providing Chris Callahan with his earliest memories of water polo.
He was always around the pool, even when he first started swimming and didn’t like it. He recalls his 5-year-old self, who was talking while Feaver was talking and helping out with the city’s youth swimming program. The coach told Callahan to get down and do pushups. That made Callahan cry.
He’s no longer that boy, of course. Callahan’s presence is so daunting that his teammates and coaches notice fear in their opponents. And it shows in the pool, as Callahan is regularly double-teamed on offense.
“We always figured if defense takes something away from us, and play zone that’s real tight against him, we’ll be able to work the outside game,” Feaver said. “It’s like basketball. If the post is open, you might be able to get that dunk. If they sag in a little bit, they’re going to get that 3-point shot. We’ve got some good outsider shooters: Manny Bettencourt, Morley Baker and Grant McNulty — those guys shoot the ball very well from the outside.”
Even so, Callahan doesn’t see himself as a big deal.
“I don’t consider myself the best at anything,” he said. “I don’t really think too highly of myself. I don’t let that get to me, you know. I didn’t expect anything of myself.”
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