BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- In the summer of 2009, South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia organized informal 7-on-7 passing workouts at the practice fields in Columbia.
Garcia was interested to check out a pair of highly rated recruits who had stayed home to play for the Gamecocks -- cornerback Stephon Gilmore from Rock Hill, S.C., and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery from St. Matthews, S.C.
Garcia took one glance at the chiseled Gilmore at that first passing session and was certain his new teammate would be a big-time SEC player.
"I knew Stephon (would be a star) right off the bat just with his overall size and ability," Garcia said. "It was pretty impressive being a freshman and coming in like that."
Then Garcia saw the 6-4, softer-bodied Jeffery and wasn't so sure.
"We get out there and (Jeffery) takes his shirt off and we just start dying laughing," Garcia said this week. "We're like, there's no way this guy is a five-star recruit."
While Jeffery may not have looked the part during his earliest days on campus, he held his own during the epic one-on-one battles he and Gilmore staged at the so-called "Gamecocks Proving Grounds" from 2009-11.
Gilmore and Jeffery were teammates at a high school all-star game, roommates for a year in Columbia and have remained close through their six NFL seasons. Jeffery was even a groomsman in Gilmore's wedding in Charlotte in 2014.
But they've never been opponents -- until now, on football's biggest stage.
Gilmore, a starting cornerback for the New England Patriots, figures to be matched for much of Sunday's Super Bowl LII against Jeffery, the Philadelphia Eagles' No. 1 wideout.