High School Football

Rock Hill football fans may hate the Patriots. But here’s 2 reasons to pull for them

Rock Hill native and South Carolina alumnus Stephon Gilmore is playing in his second straight Super Bowl for the Patriots on Sunday

Stephon Gilmore, Patriots cornerback and Rock Hill native reflects on where he came from.
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Stephon Gilmore, Patriots cornerback and Rock Hill native reflects on where he came from.

Cordarrelle Patterson will join an elite group of pro athletes from The Herald’s coverage area Sunday night when he suits up for the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.

Marion Campbell, Tom Addison, Jim Duncan, Chris Hope, Maurice Morris, Sheldon Brown, Benjamin Watson, Vance Walker and Patterson’s Patriots teammate, Stephon Gilmore, have all represented York, Chester or Lancaster counties in pro football’s championship game.

Patterson and Gilmore’s Patriots face the Los Angeles Rams, who prevented Watson from capping his pro career with a Super Bowl appearance in a controversial NFC Championship game. The Patriots are shooting for their sixth Super Bowl victory, in what will be the organization’s 11th appearance.

Patterson’s first Super Bowl

Nine players have returned a kickoff for a touchdown in a Super Bowl. Could former Northwestern Trojan Cordarrelle Patterson become the 10th?

The Seahawks’ Percy Harvin had the last one, an 87-yard scoring return to open the second half of the 2014 game.

Jacoby Jones (Ravens), Desmond Howard (Packers), Fulton Walker (Dolphins), Ron Dixon (Giants), Tim Dwight (Falcons), Stanford Jennings (Bengals), Devin Hester (Bears) and Jermaine Lewis (Ravens) are the other players to run a kickoff back for six points in a Super Bowl.

Dixon and Lewis scored their kickoff returns TDs in the same game, the 2001 Super Bowl. Jones’ 108-yard return is the longest, while Walker’s 98-yard return in 1983 was the first in a Super Bowl.

Patterson is averaging 28.8 yards per return this season, with one touchdown. His career average (29.98 yards per return on 176 kickoff returns over six seasons) ranks fifth all-time among players with at least 20 career returns.

Patterson has done more than just return kickoffs this season. He’s carried the ball 42 times, caught 28 passes and returned 23 kickoffs. He’s scored five touchdowns total - three receptions, one rush and one return. He’s relished his first season with the Patriots, especially working alongside QB Tom Brady.

“I can tell my kids and they can tell their kids that I caught a touchdown pass from Tom Brady,” Patterson told a reporter last Monday. “To be in the locker room and on the same field as that guy, it’s a dream come true.”

The same CBS Sports reporter asked Patterson if he was ready to add to his jewelry collection, hinting at a Super Bowl ring.

“I’ve got some rings too, so what kind of ring you talking about?” Patterson asked, laughing.

“You know the kind of ring I’m talking about,” the reporter said.

“It’ll be amazing,” Patterson said. “I hope I don’t have to pay for it!”

Joining the Patriots has worked out well for Patterson, who left Oakland last offseason. New England’s coaching staff has gotten the best out of Patterson by using him all over the field in a number of different formations and situations. Patterson’s unselfish approach, his willingness to do whatever asked, has won him admirers within the organization.

Now, he’s got the chance to reach the peak of his profession and win a Super Bowl.

“It’s everything you wanted as a kid, man,” Patterson said. “Once in a lifetime experience. You’ve just got to go out, embrace it and enjoy yourself.”

Last year’s Super Bowl defeat in the back of Gilmore’s mind

Gilmore is an interesting fit for the Super Bowl, which usually means at least a week of cameras and microphones from all over the world shoved in players’ faces. Anyone from Rock Hill that knows Gilmore, knows he’s not much of a talker, that he’s antithetical to the common conception of elite NFL cornerbacks, many of whom love to jack their jaws during and after games.

“He does his talking on the field, and it’s very, very loud,” Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty told NFL.com.

Gilmore has quietly put together a solid NFL career, but his 2018 level of play has grabbed attention that he had previously not, with some even calling him the best cornerback in the league. The former South Pointe Stallion was named first team All-Pro, picked for the Pro Bowl for the second time, and the web site Pro Football Focus named him the league’s top cornerback.

The other three Patriot defensive backs named All-Pro in the last 19 years? Ty Law, Asante Samuel and Darrelle Revis. Pretty good company.

“He doesn’t even let guys catch the ball in walk-through,” McCourty told NFL.com. “That’s kind of his mindset and his demeanor. He goes out there, he takes the field, and his one job is to shut whoever he’s guarding down, and that’s something that he’s done on a week-in, week-out basis for us this season.”

The 28-year old Gilmore defended 20 passes, second in the NFL, according to Pro-Football-Reference, and intercepted two. Less than 50 percent of the passes thrown Gilmore’s direction were completed, according to Pro Football Focus.

The recognition has been nice for a player who has been the target of criticism at times during his career, especially after signing a monster free agent contract with the Patriots in 2017. But after losing to the Eagles in last year’s Super Bowl, Gilmore really wants an achievement that would cap his career: a Super Bowl ring.

“I’m going to give it all I’ve got for this game. That’s all that matters, is this game,” Gilmore told the Buffalo News. “What I do in this game, that’s what I’m going to be happy about.”

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