It was four in the morning and
“I saw myself getting drafted,” said Gilmore.
14 years later the South Carolina product made it a reality going 10th overall to the Bills.
“He said, ‘Mom, mom I was there! I was playing mom! I was in the NFL,’” recalled his mother Linda Gilmore. “I was telling him that he was dreaming and he had to go back to bed. And he said, ‘No mom I was there! I was there!’”
Gilmore’s mother began to wonder if it was more than just a dream in the middle of the night.
“He woke me up and sat on my bed. He never changed a word. It was like a vision,” she said. “He just kept saying, ‘I was there. I was there.’ So I never believed people could have visions of things that could come true, but that really happened.”
Eventually his mother came around to what her oldest son believed was true.
“I told my mom that I was going to be a special player and I promised her that,” said Gilmore. “She said she believed in me and told me I could do anything as long as I work hard and the sky is the limit.”
While his mother encouraged him, Gilmore’s father drilled him. From the time he was in first grade Steve Gilmore had his son working on his agility and change of direction skills.
“I always would have these big road cones in the driveway and he had to run the cones real good in the driveway before we could go in the house,” he said. “I’d have him backpedal and everything at five, six-years old.”
“I remember they were some old cones,” said Gilmore. “Big road cones. They were in terrible condition, but I remember running through them. I think that’s why my footwork is so good. It was like that, but I worked hard.”
Steve Gilmore hadn’t signed his son up for Pop Warner football yet, but it wasn’t long after the cone drills began that he and his wife determined they had to get him on the field.
“When I knew he was going to be a football player, was when he was running through the house and he and my oldest daughter would be playing and he’d be juking his sister so bad she would fall and hit her head,” he said. “I told my wife at that point that we had to get him in a helmet and pads and it was time for him to play football.”
That trademark move that left his younger sister Sabrina grasping for air stuck with Stephon. He’d use it in a game 12 years later his freshman season at Tennessee.
“He did that move in Tennessee when he ran that 75-yard touchdown back in 2009,” said Gilmore’s father. “He ran at her the same way, run right at them and stop and jump back and the other kid just fell.”
Unfortunately Gilmore’s punt return was called back on a penalty, that by all accounts, would not have impacted the return.
Starting as a freshman at South Carolina at a position he had lined up to play for the first time in spring ball, Gilmore took well to cornerback. Named All-Freshman SEC in 2009, Gilmore was 1st Team All-SEC and 2nd Team All-American in 2010 and 1st Team All-American this past year with 1st Team All-SEC honors again.
His success and growth put him on the fast track to be drafted high and earned him an invite to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Taking to the field for his workout, Gilmore couldn’t help but smile when it was time for him to run the three-cone drill. He was focused, but it was impossible for him not to think about those cone drills back in his driveway in Rock Hill with his dad.
“Yeah I thought about it,” said Gilmore. “Same thing.”
Gilmore’s three-cone drill time of 6.61 seconds is an elite time. Only three other cornerbacks fared better. So as much as Gilmore’s late night vision provided the goal, the cornerback’s work ethic is what got him to the NFL.
Nevertheless the vision replayed in his head as his phone rang at Radio City Music Hall Friday night.
“The TV cameras weren’t there yet. I had gotten a little emotional,” he said. “I’ve handled my business. I’ve worked hard. That’s all I know. So I’m really happy inside. Happy to be a Buffalo Bill and a part of this organization.”