Gilmore ready for challenges ahead
Stephen Garcia dropped back to pass, lofting a ball 20 yards downfield toward wide receiver Joe Hills during Thursday night's 11-on-11 drills. Hills made a leaping grab attempt near the sideline over the head of the defensive player against him.
Despite Hills' best efforts, when the play was over the ball belonged to Stephon Gilmore on a one-armed takeaway.
It's that kind of effort on the practice field that has propelled the true freshman cornerback up the depth chart and has him working with the first team defense on a regular basis. That kind of start might surprise some, but not Gilmore.
"I ain't surprised, but that's what I wanted. That's what I come in and try to do cause I'm a competitor, but like I said I'm just trying to help the team out," Gilmore said. "It's more than I expected, but I'm just trying to work hard every play."
During his career at South Pointe High School, Gilmore saw action all over the field seeing regular time at quarterback, defensive back and on special teams. His efforts helped guide South Pointe to a high school state championship and turned him into one of the most sought after prep players in the state.
After his career came to a close, Gilmore graduated early and enrolled at South Carolina in the spring to get a jump on the system. He believes that decision is already paying off.
"I feel good. I mean, weight room I'm getting stronger and class I'm getting in and getting adjusted away from my family and stuff like that so it's a good thing," Gilmore said.
While his work in the spring has been primarily on the defensive side of the ball, USC coach Steve Spurrier has begun toying with the notion of drawing up plays for Gilmore on offense and putting him as a starter on special teams.
Switching sides and playing multiple positions are big tasks for a player who is in his first semester in Columbia. But Gilmore has made his primary focus on the defensive scheme where he believes he has the best chance of making an impact.
"It was hard when I first came, but I'm just trying to learn and listen to coach and go from there," Gilmore said. "I've just got to pay attention and learn the techniques and stuff like that."
His chances of earning that starting job were bolstered on Thursday as Spurrier announced defensive back C.C. Whitlock is indefinitely suspended due to not meeting team standards.
Gilmore's hard work hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates, as sophomore Akeem Auguste sees a lot of similarities between Gilmore and himself last year.
"For a freshman to come out like how he did, that's just like me when I came out my freshman year spring. I came out and everybody was surprised," Auguste said. "I'm glad he's doing a good job cause they keep throwing to him. They don't throw to my side so they're going to keep throwing to his side and he's going to keep giving it to them. He's going to be good."
Younger players like Auguste and Gilmore are aware that they will most likely be playing a more vital role on this year's team after graduation and early departures vacated many of the positions held by last year's starters. Despite their status as underclassmen, Auguste believes that the level of performance will not change next season.
"I feel like the ability level really (did not) leave. I know I can play. I know Stephon can play," Auguste said. "We're going to be up for the challenge. We're going to be ready."
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