When Stephon Gilmore moved away from South Carolina for the first time this year, he didn’t own a winter coat. Now, relocated to upstate New York by the Buffalo Bills, who drafted him No. 10 in April’s NFL draft, Gilmore has a stack of them.
“It’s definitely different, but it’s not as bad as people say,” Gilmore said Tuesday of his adopted hometown.
Gilmore’s rookie season has been anything but bad. He has started every game for the Bills. By November, he was the team’s top cornerback, matched against the opponent’s best receiver. This past Sunday, he was matched up against Seattle receiver Sidney Rice, also a former Gamecock.
He got the first interception of his career against the Seahawks, which he returned for a touchdown. The touchdown was called back by a holding penalty, but the ball remains in Gilmore’s possession awaiting a fitting showcase spot in his home.
“I think, as a rookie, I held my own,” Gilmore said. “With the style of play I had in college, I haven’t really had that welcome to the NFL moment, but the game is so much faster than in college. You don’t have time to think. You just have to react to things.”
Gilmore is fourth on the team with 55 tackles and also has 16 passes defended. That’s the good news. The bad news is Buffalo is 5-9, in last place in the AFC East and headed for the offseason after two more regular season games.
“(The Bills are) having a rough season, but individually I think I have gotten better every game,” Gilmore said. “I’ve been making plays. I’ve been playing consistent. For me personally, I try to do my job to the best of my ability and see what I can do better to help my team win.”
Gilmore, who on Tuesday was part of a promotion from Pepsi and the NFL that allows fans to vote for the rookie of the week at NFL.com/rookies, believes his experience at South Carolina — where the Gamecocks won seven games his first season, nine games his second and 11 games his third — can help him as the Bills try to turn around their club.
“I do see a lot of improvement as the season went on from different players on our team,” he said. “I think we have something going. The record doesn’t show it, but we have to finish the season strong.”
Gilmore is a teammate of former Clemson star C.J. Spiller, who lost a bet between the two in November when the Gamecocks beat the Tigers. The wager cost Spiller only pride as he had to wear a South Carolina shirt.
“I took a picture of him, and I tweeted it out to everybody,” Gilmore said. “He’s like, ‘You made me put on that chicken shirt.’ ”