Ever since Stephon Gilmore left South Carolina to go to the NFL in 2012, he's wanted to come back to his hometown of Rock Hill, South Carolina and do a football camp. After focusing on playing for the Buffalo Bills his first three years, Gilmore finally decided it was time to do a camp.
Hence the first-ever "Skills and Drills" camp hosted by Gilmore at his old high school, South Pointe, on Wednesday, July 8. Dozens of kids from the ages of 10-15 participated in drills and contests and listened to advice from Gilmore and other NFL players that came along to help out.
"I've always wanted to do this for my high school," Gilmore said. "I just wanted to do a skills and drills camp for these kids because we have a lot of athletes in Rock Hill and I just wanted them to get out and get better for one day and learn drills that we do everyday."
The camp started with an introduction from the coaches that were present. Gilmore, former Dallas Cowboy DeVonte Holloman, Darian Stewart of the Denver Broncos, Landon Cohen of the Seattle Seahawks and Jadeveon Clowney of the Houston Texans all introduced themselves to the kids that were present. All but Cohen are former Gamecocks and came back to help out Gilmore. The South Pointe football coaching staff was also helping out with the camp.
"It's good to be back, let's go have some fun," said Holloman, a former teammate of Gilmore's at South Pointe.
The coaches first asked the kids what's the most important thing you have to remember when you're on offense. One of them correctly answered holding onto the ball and the athletes showed the youngsters how to hold the ball "high and tight."
After the basics were told, the kids split into groups to run routes and play catch before splitting off into teams to play some backyard football.
Lunch came next and then the kids again broke off into groups where they got some one-on-one time with an athlete. The questions ranged from "how big is your house?" to "who is your favorite player to play against in the NFL?"
While the drills may have been fun, that one-on-one time may have been the most important thing that happened. One of the main reasons that Gilmore wanted to do a camp was to show the kids how far hard work and determination can get you.
"They look at you as role models," Gilmore said. "Everybody wants to play in the NFL and I'm just trying to teach them to work hard. It takes hard work to get to the NFL. When you come back and show your face, it gives them motivation that they can do the same thing."
Johnathan Joseph, a Rock Hill native himself, was glad for the opportunity to come back to his hometown and help out an old friend.
"I'm just supporting Stephon, first and foremost," Joseph said. "He's a fellow Rock Hill native and fellow Gamecock and he's in the NFL brotherhood. He's a great friend of mine. The least I can do is come out here and interact with these kids and show my support."
South Pointe head football coach Strait Herron had similar feelings. He's had plenty of his players go on to play at South Carolina and then the NFL and he never knows if they will remember their roots. For him, it was nice to see Gilmore and some of his other former players come back and share some knowledge with the community.
"You wonder what happens once they sign those big contracts and they go away," Herron said. "You wonder if you'll ever see them or hear from them anymore. It's great for them to take out half a day to come back and spend it with the kids. It's exciting for the kids and it's exciting for the coaches and players."
**Story and photo by Kyle Heck**