Stephon Gilmore's football journey leads him to fresh start with Patriots

Stephon Gilmore on life as a Patriot: "It's hard work. You're never really satisfied about doing what we're supposed to do." Mike Reiss/ESPN.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The 2017 season has been filled with new beginnings for cornerback Stephon Gilmore after signing a five-year, $65 million free-agent contract with the New England Patriots in March, and he's enjoying the experience.

"Everything happened fast," he said of the opening of free agency. "I didn't know where I was going to be, but I always saw these guys on film and I was like 'I could fit in over there, playing with those guys.'"

Though there were some rocky moments on the field early on, and then a three-game stretch in which he was out with a concussion, things have settled down of late. Gilmore has played the past two games and drew praise for his work.

"I think Steph's doing a good job," head coach Bill Belichick said this week on sports radio WEEI. "He's had a couple big assignments with [Demaryius] Thomas last week and Michael Crabtree this week. I thought he competed well against those guys. He'll have another big one this week [against Miami]."

Belichick added that the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Gilmore has been "professional, works hard every day, has a lot of experience, and understands how to play that position."

Gilmore, 27, who grew up in Rock Hill, South Carolina, shares his "football journey" as part of ESPN.com’s weekly feature:

When he first started playing football: "Probably 6-7 years old -- running back for the Demons. I've been playing ever since. I had been playing every sport and my dad put me in football. He's basically been with me the whole way."

Favorite players growing up: "One of my favorite corners of all-time was Aeneas Williams. Deion [Sanders] probably was, too. Growing up in South Carolina, you had Atlanta right down the street so I was a Michael Vick fan."

Role models in his life: "My dad [Stevie]. He was always hard on me as a kid. I never really understood why, but he always had confidence in me and knew I could be something special. Ever since I was a little kid, he had me backpedaling and 3-cone drills, and all that. He really pushed me to believe in myself and be who I am today."

Favorite football memories of South Pointe High School: "I was the quarterback, didn't play defense. I enjoyed that. My first year, it was a new school, so we only had a ninth-grade [team] and JV. My second year was when we moved up to varsity. We were 4-and-whatever. And then the third year, we got better, 8-4. Then the last year, we won the state championship. That's probably one of the best moments, winning that state championship."

Enrolling at South Carolina: "A couple of players from my hometown went there, and a lot of my role models growing up and people I talked to and asked for advice, like Sheldon Brown -- he was with the Eagles for a couple of years -- and Johnathan Joseph, he's with the Texans. Ko Simpson, another player that played up a little bit. It seemed like a lot of DBs made it from South Carolina, so that's one reason I picked it. I actually graduated high school early, and left in the second semester; I had always wanted to play corner and went in there and worked for my spot and ended up starting freshman year."

Top football memories at South Carolina: "Probably beating Alabama when they were the No. 1 team in the country."

Meeting his wife Gabrielle in college: "She ran track at South Carolina and is very competitive, too. When I first saw her, I knew she was going to be the one. I saw her walking on campus and was like 'Who is that?' I didn't say anything, because I'm not the type of person to go up and talk to somebody like that. I waited a couple times, saw her again, talked to her, messaged her on Facebook, and that was it."

Preparing for the 2012 NFL draft: "When I came out as a junior, I had a third-round grade, but I knew in my heart I was better than that. I just worked hard, trained hard, and ran a pretty good time at the combine. Then they invited me to the Green Room [at the draft] that fast."

Selected No. 10 overall by the Bills: "I was excited. At the same time, I had not heard much about Buffalo, and was thinking it might be closer to New York City. I didn't really know about Western New York. But that was a good experience and I think Buffalo helped my life out -- slow pace -- at the beginning of my career."

Top football memories with the Bills: "Pretty much the teammates I had there. They were good teammates and I met a lot of great guys that took me in and taught me a lot as a rookie. We still have a relationship today."

Describing life as a Patriot: "It's hard work. You're never really satisfied about doing what we're supposed to do. You're getting hungrier and hungrier every day, trying to get better. I love my teammates; getting closer to them."

What he loves about football: "No one is going to be perfect every time, but that's what makes me want to go more -- I want to try to be perfect. But one thing about this game -- you can lean on your teammates, and yourself, to come together as a team and play for the ultimate goal."

Summing up his football journey: "It's been fun. Pretty much to me, nothing has really changed thinking-wise: You play, then you have film, then you have what people say. Now it's just on more of a bigger scale the more and more you play. You have to have that mindset to be relentless and play hard and believe in yourself."