There are 212 professional football players with season still remaining to play. Three of them share a common bond on the field despite all being on different teams in this weekend’s NFL conference championship games.
Three of the team’s remaining have a former South Carolina player in their starting lineup and all three of those Gamecocks played on the 2011 team: Jacksonville offensive lineman A.J. Cann, New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore and Philadelphia wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. Cann and Gilmore’s teams will play at 3:05 p.m. Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, while Jeffery’s Eagles face the Minnesota Vikings at 6:40 p.m. Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.
The winners of those games will meet in Super Bowl LII. Twenty-three former South Carolina players have played in the Super Bowl, most recently Patrick DiMarco last year with the Atlanta Falcons.
The talent that is on display now was visible in 2011, too. That South Carolina team finished the season 11-2 and ranked No. 9 in the nation. It was the first 11-win season in Gamecocks history and the only season Cann, Gilmore and Jeffery shared the field.
Gilmore and Jeffery were juniors on that team who would turn pro early as soon as the season was complete. Cann was a redshirt freshman who started every game at left guard.
“I was talking the other day about him, he could play 15 years in the NFL because he’s such good guy, gives good effort, a good teammate, clubhouse guy,” former USC coach Steve Spurrier said. “He’s just really a good guy.”
Cann has been a starter for the Jaguars since being drafted by the team in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gilmore and Jeffrey both are with their second NFL teams.
Gilmore was selected 10th overall in the 2012 draft by the Buffalo Bills. He spent five years with the Bills before signing a five-year, $65 million free agent contract with the Patriots.
Jeffery was drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft by the Chicago Bears. He spent five years with the Bears before signing a one-year deal with Eagles in 2017. After a successful 2017 season, he signed a four-year, $52 million extension to that deal.
“He’s a natural, super hands, fast,” Spurrier said. “He’s probably a little faster than you’d think he was. He got a little heavy there his last year, but he could still run well.”
Jeffery and Gilmore, who could face off against each other in the Super Bowl, spent plenty of time going head-to-head in Gamecocks practices from 2009-2011. Spurrier doesn’t remember any of those matchups specifically, but he does remember that breakthrough 2011 season well.
“That was the first year we won 11 games,” he said.