ROCK HILL - Signs of a football-centric family greet visitors as soon as they pull into the driveway of the two-story, brick home where Stephon Gilmore grew up.
There is a South Carolina flag out front, a football in the yard and a welcoming committee comprised of three of Gilmore's five younger siblings.
Scarlett, 9, and Savannah, 7, emerge from the house wearing temporary Gamecock tattoos on their cheeks from USC's game against Florida two days earlier. Steven Jr., 10, is dressed for his Pee Wee football practice, with one of his brother's garnet-and-black Under Armour shirts stretched over his pint-sized shoulder pads.
Steven informs a visitor he wears No. 5 and plays cornerback, just like his brother down the road in Columbia.
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Family members say little Steven could be "the next one" in the family to play major-college football.
The first one has set the bar pretty high.
A year ago, Gilmore was the starting quarterback for South Pointe's state championship team. The 6-foot-1, 188-pound Gilmore ran and passed his way to the state's Mr. Football award, a spot on the Parade All-American team and an invitation to the Under Armour All-American game.
He chose USC over Alabama in large part because of the seven people he has tattooed in a family tree on his left arm: parents Stevie and Linda and the five siblings who think their big brother hung the moon.
"I didn't want to go too far. I wanted to stay close to my family," Gilmore said this week. "I thought I could stay instate instead of going to another state and contribute like I'm doing now."
Gilmore's contributions include 11 starts at boundary cornerback and a team-high eight pass breakups. Gilmore is fifth on the team with 48 tackles and has averaged 11.7 yards as a punt returner, which would rank fifth in the SEC if he had enough chances.
All this from a 19-year-old who never played corner full-time before enrolling at USC in January.
"It's hard to project a freshman to play the way Stephon has played this season," said USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, Gilmore's position coach. "Has he made some mistakes? Sure he has. But for a guy to play in the SEC coming out of high school as a true freshman, I think he's done a great job."
SUCCESS IN EVERY SPORT
South Pointe coach Bobby Carroll remembers first seeing Gilmore, then about 8 years old, at a football camp at Northwestern High, where Carroll spent 20 years as defensive coordinator. Carroll said Gilmore's athleticism and competitiveness were evident then, but he did not foresee Gilmore becoming a Division I football player.
In fact, football was one of several sports in which Gilmore excelled. He threw several no-hitters one summer for his Rock Hill Little League team despite having no formal pitching instruction, and he was all-state in basketball as a high school junior.
"Every team he's been on, he dominated," Linda Gilmore said.
The next time Carroll saw Gilmore, he was starring for his middle-school team at Saluda Trail, which was zoned for Rock Hill's new high school, South Pointe, which opened in 2005.
South Pointe did not field a varsity team that first season, but Carroll caught a glimpse of the future when Gilmore bolted for a touchdown on the first snap of a season-opening freshman game against Rock Hill.
"The very first play of this school's history, he runs the outside veer and goes 65 yards untouched," Carroll said. "And I go, 'Holy cow, this has got potential.'"
The Stallions took their lumps the following year in their first varsity season, going 3-8 with a team that ran the flexbone option and featured no seniors. Carroll installed a spread offense before the 2007 season, when Gilmore led South Pointe to the second round of the playoffs and landed on the recruiting lists of schools "from Maine to Miami," Carroll said.
Despite the boxes of recruiting mail that would pile up in Carroll's office, Gilmore never got too full of himself. Nor did he stop working.
Carroll would be cutting grass at the school on Sunday mornings when Gilmore's 1977 Chevy Caprice Classic would pull up. Carroll would turn off the mower and open the weight room for Gilmore.
"He was the first one here and the last to leave," Carroll said. "You couldn't run him off."
Northwestern produced three first-round NFL draft picks while Carroll was there: tight end Ben Watson, defensive back Jeff Burris and corner Johnathan Joseph, who played at USC. Carroll has no doubt Gilmore will be a first-rounder, citing his ability to change directions without losing speed.
On a second-and-long situation last fall in the Class 4A Division II title game against Northwestern, Gilmore sprinted out looking to pass, reversed field and scored on a long run - one of his three touchdowns in the win that capped the Stallions' 15-0 season.
"That guy," Carroll said of Gilmore, "you just had to make sure he was on the bus and you snapped him the ball."
STILL GROWING AS A CORNER
As Gilmore's collection of trophies, medals and plaques grew over the years, his parents turned the mantle above their living room fireplace into a wall of fame for their oldest son.
The awards have spilled on to the hearth, where Gilmore's cleats from the Shrine Bowl sit alongside his Mr. Football trophy. The area also includes a number of framed recruiting letters, including one from former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer.
Linda has a letter from legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno somewhere in her scrapbooks.
"We were getting full-scholarship (offers), and they hadn't even seen him," she said.
While Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez was interested in Gilmore as a quarterback, most schools viewed him as a defensive back. Longtime Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews told Gilmore he reminded him of Deion Sanders, according to Carroll.
Gamecocks assistant head coach Ellis Johnson, who took over Gilmore's recruiting after he arrived at USC before the '08 season, said it was hard to get a read on Gilmore because he was so quiet.
"He'll speak his mind. He's pretty blunt. But he doesn't like to sit there and chat and jab on," Johnson said. "I couldn't get a whole lot out of him."
After eliminating Florida State, Clemson and Tennessee from consideration, Gilmore narrowed his choices to USC and Alabama and visited both schools last fall. On the return trip from Tuscaloosa while other family members slept in the car, Stevie Gilmore asked his son if he had made a decision.
Gilmore said he had. He announced his choice at a news conference last October, saying he felt most comfortable at USC.
"I always felt like, in the long run, he wanted to stay home," Johnson said.
Gilmore graduated early and enrolled at USC in January. He had the benefit of stepping into a position hit hard by personnel losses. He made the most of it.
After watching him during spring practice, Steve Spurrier said Gilmore had the chance to be one of the best players in school history. The USC coach has seen nothing this season to change his mind.
"He's been outstanding at defensive back," Spurrier said. "He's good with the ball in his hands. We haven't gotten the ball to him yet. That might be a direction we need to go."
Gilmore took snaps at quarterback in USC's WildCock formation during an August scrimmage, but he has not played offense during a game. Defensive coaches were concerned about Gilmore getting tired or injured playing both ways.
For all his Gilmore's physical skills, Johnson has been most impressed with his maturity and serious approach to the game.
"There were a lot of kids that were signed last year that had his talent level - not a whole lot, but a lot. But the kid is just different in his mental makeup, his intensity and his focus," Johnson said. "He's done some things this year like a 21- or 22-year-old would do, maybe getting beat on a play, and comes back and makes one of the biggest plays of the game three or four plays later.
"That's hard for a kid that age to do unless you've got that kind of makeup about you."
Gilmore, who has one of the two interceptions this season by USC defensive backs, should be a shoo-in for the SEC's all-freshman team. And Gilmore believes he has just scratched the surface at corner.
"This is my first year of really playing cornerback all year, so just learning routes, playing against different players every game in the SEC - good players, good receivers," he said. "I learned a lot, and next year I'm going to come back even stronger."
Stevie and Linda Gilmore have been married 22 years. With five children still at home, evenings can be chaotic as they juggle practices for basketball, Pee Wee football and cheerleading around homework and supper.
But the family tries to sit down for dinner every Sunday, according to Stevie, who manages a title loan office in Fort Mill. Gilmore joins them for dinner when his schedule allows - one of the perks of being an hour away.
"I love my family," he said. "I wanted to always stay close to them."
Gilmore might have company in Columbia next year: His sister, Sabrina, a senior at South Pointe, plans to apply to USC and try out for the cheerleading squad.
Steven Jr., who could be the family's next big-time recruit, in the Class of 2018, wears his pride for his brother on his sleeve - and elsewhere. He figured to be the only player on the Sunset Park Trojans sporting game-worn Under Armour gloves from the Gamecocks' Florida game - complete with the Wounded Warrior logo - to the team's Monday evening practice.
Stevie said Steven Jr.'s love of football reminds him of Stephon at the same age.
"He was always running through the house with a football in his hands," Stevie said.
And look how he turned out.