By JOHN WAWROW, AP Sports Writer
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Linda Gilmore will never forget the early morning when her then-7-year-old son Stephon shook her from of a dead sleep to excitedly share the dream he just had.
"It must have been 4 or 5 in the morning," Gilmore recalled on Friday. " 'Ma,' this is what he said, 'I was there. I was in the NFL.' "
The dream was so vivid, there was nothing she could do to convince him to go back to bed.
Some 15 years later, Linda Gilmore was on hand to see that vision come true.
Along with her husband Stevie, the two proud parents joined their son for his visit to Orchard Park. That's where they toured the Buffalo Bills facility, met with coaches and players, and watched as Stephon Gilmore was formally introduced at a news conference a day after the team selected the South Carolina cornerback with the 10th pick in the draft.
"I'm just happy to see that he has achieved his dream with so much hard work and determination," she said. "He just seems so calm and at ease here that it should be a good fit for him."
The Bills believe so as well. They're counting on Gilmore to make an immediate impact on a defense that's being rebuilt with a focus on limiting big plays, particularly in the passing game, after Buffalo ranked 26th or worse in the NFL last year in most statistical categories.
At 6-feet and 193 pounds, Gilmore was regarded by many as the second-best cornerback prospect in the draft after a three-year career at South Carolina, where he started all 40 games. The NFL's draft bio on Gilmore regards him as "a player who might be the best product produced by (Gamecocks coach) Steve Spurrier since he took over the program in 2005."
Aside from his speedy and hard-hitting style, Gilmore was praised for his leadership ability and commitment to academics. Majoring in sports and entertainment management, Gilmore has a 3.2 GPA, and is two semesters away from earning his degree, which he intends to one day complete.
For now, getting up to speed on the NFL will become the priority for Gilmore who proved to be a quick study at South Carolina. A quarterback in high school, he made a near seamless switch to cornerback as a freshman. In three years, opponents completed less than 18 percent of passes into his area, while he finished with eight interceptions and is credited with breaking up 17 passes.
"I think I've got a lot to learn. I mean, I don't know it all," Gilmore said. "I'm willing to learn. Whatever the coaches teach me. I'm a confident player, no matter what."
He's also very soft spoken to the point of seeming to lack emotion. That was evident during the draft at New York's Radio City Music Hall on Thursday night. Gilmore barely broke a smile after his name was called.
"I'm more of a laidback type guy off the field. I take things serious," Gilmore said. "I think once I get on the field, I'm louder. ... I come out of the shell."
And yes, Gilmore recalls the dream he had as a child about being in the NFL.
"I've been working hard since I was seven," he said. "I always dreamed about it."
The only thing missing in the dream, he said, was he couldn't make out what team he was playing for.
Though the Carolina Panthers are based just north of his hometown of Rock Hill, S.C., Gilmore didn't have a favorite team growing up. That's now changed.
"The Buffalo Bills are my favorite team now," Gilmore said.
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