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Stallions fans cheer as Gilmore is picked 10th by the Bills

Since the time Stephon Gilmore was 6 years old, Shirley Nicholson has been cheering for him.

But there are limits to her devotion.

“As much as I love Stephon, I’m not going to New York,” Nicholson said with a laugh, as she watched Gilmore chosen 10th overall in the NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills Thursday night.

“When he comes back home to play the Panthers, I’ll go see him.”

Nicholson and a large group of South Pointe High supporters were holding their breath when Carolina was on the clock a spot earlier. They were hoping Gilmore, who played for the Stallions, would stay close to home, but the Panthers elected to go with Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly.

Their disappointment was short-lived, however, when Buffalo called Gilmore’s name less than 10 minutes later.

That sent up a cheer from the standing-room only crowd at Thursday’s Too, even if they were disappointed about the travel plans.

“We might have to get a bus of Stallions fans on the road,” South Pointe athletic director Mike Drummmond said. “We’re excited for him. We were hoping for Carolina, but this was a good thing.”

Nicholson, the school’s photographer, said she’s known Gilmore since he was playing for the Finley Road Falcons and her daughter was a cheerleader. And even though she’s not looking forward to western New York trips, she does look forward to re-connecting.

“He better come see me,” she said. “And he knows he better give me a hug when he does.”

Gilmore, who attended South Carolina, didn’t display much emotion when he crossed the stage at Radio City Music Hall to greet NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. That’s not unusual for the stoic Gilmore, who has always impressed others with his maturity.

“Stephon’s going to be fine wherever he goes,” Drummond said. “He just wants to play, he doesn’t care where.

“He’s just such a competitor, that he’s going to be fine wherever he goes.”

Gilmore joins a Bills team that went 6-10 last year after losing eight of their final nine games. It marked the 12th straight season the Bills failed to make the playoffs, the longest active streak in the league.

To combat that slide, the Bills have invested heavily in defense this offseason. They signed defensive end Mario Williams (a former No. 1 overall pick) to a six-year, $96-million contract, and supplemented him by signing Bears defensive end Mark Anderson to a four-year, $27.5-million deal. Last year’s first-rounder, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, gives them a solid anchor in their transition back to a 4-3 system.

Gilmore gives the Bills a talented athlete on the back side of that defense, and his coverage ability helps round out an emerging side. They have a pair of ninth-year cornerbacks (Drayton Florence and Terrence McGee), giving him a chance to start in a hurry.

“I think he’s a physical player,” Bills national scout Darrell Moody told the Buffalo News. “He’s got excellent size, and he has a good body of work. He’s been a three-year starter. I think he has played well against the run and played well against the pass, bump and Cover 2 and off-man and off-zone. I think he’s a complete player.”

Gilmore’s not the first local product to be drafted by the Bills, as former Rock Hill High standout Ko Simpson was a fourth-round pick in 2006.