Jan. 24, 2017
Stephon Gilmore's impact on the South Carolina football program goes beyond his outstanding three years (2009-2011) in the Garnet and Black. The Rock Hill, S.C., native was the first of several high school student-athletes named "Mr. Football" who chose to stay at home and help South Carolina become a top 10 program. Carolina made, this is Gilmore's story in his own words.
One of the reasons I stayed in state and went to the University of South Carolina was because I wanted to be different. I wanted to change the program around. I had a lot of scholarship offers coming out of (South Pointe) high school to other schools that were winning a lot of games at the time. One thing I wanted to do was go somewhere and change the culture. I wanted to change the way we approached things.
I didn't feel any pressure to commit. I think a lot of people were surprised that I picked South Carolina, but I saw it as a great university. Columbia is a great place. There are great people around there. I really enjoyed myself.
Once I chose to go to South Carolina, a lot of other players started saying things like `wow, Stephon's going there.' I think that allowed other players to come as well.
I actually did talk to other guys from my high school about South Carolina. I told them to make the best decision for themselves. Once they saw me commit, and that we had a pretty good group of commitments with DeVonte Holloman, D.J. Swearinger, Alshon Jeffery, and all of these other guys in my recruiting class who were turning the program around, it was easier to get more guys on board. We got a lot of other great players after that, like Marcus Lattimore.
To be honest, I wasn't a South Carolina fan growing up. I wasn't a Clemson fan growing up, either. I was just a football fan. I never really knew how much I was going to like South Carolina until I took a visit. I always wanted to play in the SEC. I didn't want to play in the ACC.
(Defensive Coordinator) Ellis Johnson really made me feel comfortable. I just saw something special with South Carolina.
I used to hear about the Carolina-Clemson rivalry a lot growing up. I didn't realize how big it was until I got to South Carolina, though. If you win that game, it's like winning the championship. It's about bragging rights.
Being at South Carolina definitely prepared me for the NFL. I played against the best of the best in the SEC. So it wasn't as big of a change for me once I got to the NFL.
Making the Most of His Talents
When I first came in, I knew I would have to work my tail off to get an opportunity to start. Nobody gave me anything. I had to earn the position. I enrolled early and got used to going to class and working out. I got acclimated pretty fast.
I wouldn't say that I surprised myself by starting as a freshman. I always set standards pretty high for myself. The rest is history.
My best memories of being at South Carolina include the game where we beat No. 1 Alabama at Williams-Brice Stadium. That is the loudest I have ever heard the stadium. Beating Florida to win the SEC East is right up there, too.
Going to the SEC Championship and playing against (Auburn's) Cam Newton was one of the moments when you realize how hard it is to win the championship. In the SEC, you can't overlook any team. It's sort of like a mini-version of the NFL. Being at South Carolina definitely prepared me for the NFL. I played against the best of the best in the SEC. So it wasn't as big of a change for me once I got to the NFL.
South Carolina is Home
Rock Hill is a small town. They love their sports there. It's a great town. It molded me into the player I am now because there were so many great athletes there. There were a lot of great athletes who didn't get the chance to play in college, but they helped me get there.
I still get recognized when I go home. I can't go anywhere without being noticed, but that's a good thing. I'll never forget where I came from.
The biggest influences for me were my mom and dad. I'm the oldest of six kids. I had to be a big role model for my brother and sisters. I always look back at that and trying to make my name look good for them.
When I think about the State of South Carolina, we have athletes who are just as good as anywhere else, but maybe they don't get the recognition. Maybe it's because they're not all from the big cities, but I feel like the talent level is up there with anywhere in the country.
What I love about the State of South Carolina is that you can just gel with any kind of people.
The University of South Carolina is just a great place. There are a lot of great people. I can always go there, and I know there are people who will take care of me.
My time at South Carolina was so much fun. I miss it. Now that I'm in the league, you miss college football. You miss your roommates. You miss going to the cafeteria at the Russell House and Dodie (Academic Enrichment Center). You miss it. You don't realize it until you leave.
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