FOXBORO, Mass. — Long before they became New England Patriots teammates, Stephon Gilmore and Cordarrelle Patterson were high school rivals.
Gilmore and Patterson both hail from Rock Hill, S.C., a city of roughly 72,000 that’s produced so many NFL players it earned the enviable nickname “Football City, USA.”
In 2008, Gilmore was the star quarterback for South Pointe, one of Rock Hill’s three public high schools. Patterson was a standout wide receiver at nearby Northwestern High, located less than seven miles away.
After squaring off once during the regular season — a 28-7 South Pointe victory — the crosstown rivals met again in the South Carolina 4A Division II state championship game, which was held at Clemson’s famed Death Valley.
“We’re from the same hometown, so it was two rival teams playing against each other,” Gilmore recalled Tuesday in an interview with NESN.com. “It was a good game. A lot of talent on that team we had.”
Northwestern entered the game with a 13-1 record, but Patterson’s squad was no match for Gilmore and Co., who prevailed 35-14 to cap a 15-0 season and finish third in MaxPreps’ national high school rankings. (Also on that South Pointe team: Jadeveon Clowney, the future No. 1 overall pick. Football City, indeed.)
The state title closed out a brilliant high school career for Gilmore, who rushed for 119 yards and three touchdowns and passed for another 69 yards and one score in the championship game.
“They used to cheat all the time because they had (Gilmore) at quarterback,” said Patterson, who caught a touchdown pass in the game. “That (expletive) wasn’t fair. It was like a cheat code.”
Though he switched to cornerback — his current position — upon arriving at South Carolina in 2008, Gilmore was a highly accomplished high school quarterback, accounting for 37 touchdowns as a senior (14 passing, 23 rushing) and earning “Mr. Football” honors in his home state, not to mention spots on multiple All-American lists.
Patterson was an electric playmaker in his own right, finishing his senior year with 75 catches for 944 yards and 18 touchdowns and joining Gilmore on the Associated Press All-State first team.
Gilmore quickly became a starter for the Gamecocks as a true freshman, while Patterson spent time at two junior colleges before landing at Tennessee in 2012. Both wound up becoming first-round NFL draft picks (Gilmore 10th overall in 2012, Patterson 29th in 2013) and have since combined for three Pro Bowl selections.
“We always competed against each other growing up,” said Gilmore, who signed a five-year, $65 million contract with the Patriots last offseason. “Our high schools were always going against each other. I kind of didn’t like him, because it was a rivalry thing, but respected his game a lot. Now we’re good.”
But doesn’t mean Gilmore won’t still needle Patterson, who joined the Patriots via trade in March.
“I always tell him we took that ring from him in the state championship,” Gilmore said with a smile. “He always says we cheated. That’s his excuse. It’s always fun getting on him.”
The Rock Hill boys now are on the same side, fighting for the same goal: a Super Bowl ring, something neither has been fortunate enough to earn yet. Gilmore was part of the Patriots team that lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII — in fact, he was New England’s best defensive player in that game — while Patterson has yet to advance past the first round of the playoffs in five seasons.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images