Cornerback Stephon Gilmore was a top performer in offseason workouts, a sign that the junior is willing to take charge a year after South Carolina fell to 97th nationally in pass defense after ranking eighth in 2009.
“We still have it in the back of our minds,” said Gilmore, who led the team in tackles with 79 and interceptions with three. “We just have to take it out on the teams we play in this upcoming season.”
The secondary needs to build confidence after a rough season and they will do it behind the 6-foot-1 Rock Hill native who is a preseason All-SEC pick. Ellis Johnson, assistant head coach for defense, said Gilmore is a “team guy” who leads by example.
“He’s not real vocal, but you don’t have to be real vocal when you’re a player and you’re a character guy and you do things the right way,” Johnson said.
“You don’t ever see him on a class-cut list. You don’t ever see him on a miss-study-hall list. You never see him on a late-to-workout list,” the coach added. “You don’t see him on anything other than he’s doing everything he’s suppose to do -- and he’s doing it better than everyone else.”
This spring, Gilmore -- a junior predicted to be a first-round NFL draft pick if he goes pro -- received the Harris Pastides Scholar-Athlete award, named after the USC president.
Gilmore said the team is faster and in better condition than last year.
“I don’t think I got tired,” he said after a recent practice. “Probably last year, I would have gotten tired. It’ll pay off in the long run.”
USC brought in a number of new, talented defensive backs that could give the secondary some depth headed into the season. Gilmore said he looks to teach the newer players, such as telling them to play through their mistakes.
“I’m more mature now,” Gilmore said. “I’m trying to get all the young players in and watch more film and try to be more vocal. I wasn’t really vocal. I always tried to lead on the field.”
Gilmore also is a welcoming committee of sorts -- and, in turn, has helped give the secondary a bit of a swagger heading into a pivotal season. He popped new wide receiver Bruce Ellington during the first practice, surprising the Gamecocks’ star point guard in his debut with the football team.
“I told him I was going to get him this summer,” Gilmore said. “I had to show him a little something.”
Then -- just like being a good team player that he is -- Gilmore added, “He’s a great athlete. He’ll be good.”
Thursday practice highlights