At Super Bowl, former teammates Alshon Jeffery, Stephon Gilmore not on speaking terms

Joseph Person, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Football

Beamer, now an assistant at Oklahoma, was equally impressed.

"The one thing with Alshon that stood out throughout recruiting and once he stepped on campus is he had unbelievable ball skills and size," Beamer said. "When the ball was in the air, he had a gift of being able to come down with it."

Jeffery and Gilmore started a wave of some incredible recruiting classes for the Gamecocks, featuring homegrown players who chose to stay in-state. Running back Marcus Lattimore arrived from Spartanburg, S.C., the following year, and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney -- another South Pointe grad -- came to Columbia the year after that.

Garcia, who is a private quarterbacks coach in his Tampa, Fla., hometown, says Jeffery and Gilmore established the tone at practices with the way they would go at each other.

"There were some definitely some intense moments. I loved it, we all loved it," Garcia said. "We were just so competitive and those guys were the forerunners for that competitive nature."

As juniors Gilmore and Jeffery shared a four-bedroom apartment near Williams-Brice Stadium that was like a fraternity of future NFL stars. Their other roommates were Melvin Ingram, a linebacker with the San Diego Chargers, and Washington safety D.J. Swearinger.

Jeffery said no one did much cooking at the apartment, but there was plenty of talk about their post-college plans.

"We all just had a good time, just living with each other. That's all it's about, the college experience," Jeffery said. "Also just knowing that we all were trying to go pro. Our dreams did come true."

Added Gilmore: "I think we were talented then. I think we all had (draft) grades to be in the NFL and be successful. So it doesn't surprise me at all."

Gilmore was the 10th overall pick of the Buffalo Bills in the 2012 draft. Jeffery, who had worked himself into much better shape, went in the second round (45th overall) to the Chicago Bears.

Both spent five seasons with their original teams, each going to one Pro Bowl but never playing in a postseason game. They've also never played each other; Gilmore missed the Bills' win vs. Chicago in 2014 with an injury.

But after signing lucrative free-agent contracts last offseason, here they are in the Super Bowl after making big plays in their conference championship games.

Gilmore stretched out to knock down a fourth-down pass from Blake Bortles in the final two minutes to preserve the Patriots' 24-20 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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Jeffery caught two touchdown passes in the Eagles' 38-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, including a 53-yarder that Garcia said was evidence of Jeffery's football savvy.

The play called for Jeffery to run a square-in. But when a Vikings defender established inside leverage, Jeffery took off deep, threw his hand up to signal to quarterback Nick Foles and was wide open for an easy score.

Garcia is looking forward watching his former teammates go head-to-head in the Super Bowl. And while he respects Gilmore's physicality and coverage skills, he's giving the edge to Jeffery because "even when he's covered, he still makes the play."

Gilmore makes his offseason home in south Charlotte, N.C., near where his wife Gabrielle, who ran track at South Carolina, grew up. They have two children -- 2-year-old son Stephon Sebastian and 11-month-old daughter Gisele Sienna, who was born the same day Gilmore signed with the Patriots last March.

Garcia keeps in touch with Jeffery and saw Gilmore last winter at Swearinger's charity basketball game. The former Gamecocks QB appreciates that the two "didn't let these big contracts get to their head."

And though they were determined to keep their focus squarely on the Lombardi Trophy this week, Gilmore and Jeffery conceded in quieter moments that their Super Bowl matchup is something special.

"I think it's a testament to just being from South Carolina and carrying a chip on your shoulder. We don't get a lot of respect," Jeffery said. "But if you look at it, South Carolina's got some of the top players in the NFL."

Gilmore was asked whether he would appreciate his game-within-the-game with Jeffery more in the future.

"I appreciate it now," he said. "It's great to see people you know being successful or playing in the Super Bowl or making plays. I see him on TV all the time. It's just good seeing him."

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