Despite his soft-spoken demeanor, Stephon Gilmore has never shied away from the spotlight, especially when it comes to his performance on the football field. From graduating high school early (in order to earn a first-string spot during spring practice at South Carolina), to starting as a rookie in Buffalo (after being selected #10 overall), Stephon has spent countless hours preparing for and overcoming challenges.

Although his team missed the playoffs during his first five seasons, Stephon continued to elevate his game and was eventually voted to the Pro Bowl. When free agency landed him on one of the NFL’s most celebrated franchises, he rose to the occasion. From never playing in a playoff game to starting in consecutive Super Bowls, Stephon has quickly grown from being a promising young cornerback to a Super Bowl Champion and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year (he’s the first New England Patriot in history to be given that honor).

If you ask Stephon, his road to becoming a relentless, hard-working leader began in Rock Hill, South Carolina. As the oldest of six siblings, he balanced being a multi-sport athlete with being a big brother. It was also during his childhood when his love for MJ and Air Jordans began, thanks to his father. Now, the top defensive player in professional football will represent the Jumpman when he returns to the field to do what he does best — defend his spot. Welcome to the family, Stephon.

Super Bowl champion, multiple Pro Bowls, the first-ever New England Patriot to ever win defensive player of the year… you’re at the top of your game. Then, you get the call about joining the Jordan Brand. What went through your mind when that happened?

Oh man, I was so excited. I grew up wanting all the Jordans as a kid. I looked up to Michael Jordan, and my dad had all his jerseys. It took two years, but to have this opportunity to join the Jordan Brand? I’m excited. It’s a brotherhood. It’s MJ, the best to ever play the game. How he handled himself on and off the court has always stood out to me.

Do you have a first memory of MJ?

I just know that I was obsessed with him. I have pictures of my dad and I dressed up in Jordan gear, our whole outfits. I was always a big fan. I couldn’t afford every Air Jordan growing up, but my dad made sure that I had certain ones. I had the Concords and the original Is. Those are probably my favorites. I played basketball, and that was my first true love.

What are some of the skills you learned in basketball that helped you develop as a football player?

I played point guard, so I had some handles and played great defense. I could always stay in front of whoever my competitor was. I think that if I didn’t play football, I could have been a great defensive player and shut down whoever is on the court — playing hard, going out and fighting to get the job done. I don’t take it easy on anybody. You run more in basketball than you do in football, so stamina, agility and staying in front of individual players are all things I’ve taken to the field.

There’s a different swagger and confidence that comes with being a Jordan Brand athlete. How would you describe that?

Everyone on the roster has their own unique personality. To be signed with Jordan Brand, I feel like you need to have that certain swagger. You have to know that you’re great on the field. You have to put the work in on and off the field.

The Jordan Brand roster includes some of the greatest athletes across all sports. Who are some of your favorites?

Kemba Walker, Russell Westbrook and Jayson Tatum are some of my favorite basketball players. I’m in Boston, so Jayson, Kemba and I are all on the same team. Also, my boy Melvin Ingram is with the Jordan Brand, and we went to college together. Zion [Williamson] is from South Carolina.

How does it feel to be one of the faces representing Jordan Brand to the next generation?

It’s very humbling. It’s a blessing to be signed to the brand and to represent the Jumpman both on and off the field. Athletes signed to Jordan are great players, but they also help out their communities. They do the things that athletes should do, and I’m looking forward to continuing that legacy.

You’re somebody who’s big on letting your game speak for itself. How did you develop that confidence?

I wouldn’t say I’m quiet, but I just like to focus on my game. I feel like if I focus more on my game and my opponent, I’ll be the better player and not have any distractions. I let my game do the talking. I keep everything in my head, work hard, prepare hard and study hard. Once I’m on that field, there are no friends for me, doesn’t matter who it is.

“I let my game do the talking.”

You’ve spoken about the importance of preparation, even as a kid — running drills with your dad and doing the extra work. How important is that preparation and being a student of the game?

That’s one big thing about me. I’m the player I am today because of my preparation and how I study my opponents. There probably aren’t any of my opponents’ plays that I haven’t watched on film. And I practice hard. I make more plays in practice than I make in a game. The game is the easy part.

You mentioned how your dad kept you laced as a kid with some of your favorite pairs. Are your kids into sneakers yet?

My son loves the red and black AJXIIIs. He’s five, so he doesn’t really know about sneakers yet. I’m just trying to prep him now, so that eventually, he’ll know, and he’ll be into the brand, too. I plan on doing the same thing my dad did with me — try to get him as many Jordans as possible but make him work for them, because it’s not easy.

Have you put any thought into what your PE cleats are going to look like?

We’ve had those conversations. I’ve had conversations with other Jordan Brand athletes like Jamal Adams and Joe Haden, too. I try to talk to other defensive backs, because it’s a different feel. I can’t wait to see how they come out and how they feel on my feet. I’m going to represent the brand as best as I can.

The Jumpman has grown to represent more than just basketball or even sports. What does it represent to you?

It represents greatness and consistency, year in and year out. It means wanting to be the greatest, no matter who you’re going against — not taking it easy on anyone. It’s about trying to be the best at your position and even the best in the world, each and every year.

You’ve always been somebody who mentors younger teammates. Where did you get that sense of leadership from?

I’m the oldest of six kids, so I always had to lead the way. I always had to lead by example, and I try to translate that onto the football field. Anybody in my locker room, especially the corners, will tell you that I’m willing to teach them everything I know. I try to help as much as I can, because eventually, I won’t be playing anymore. I want those guys to have great careers and do the same thing for the next generation.

How are you staying motivated to work out and train at home during this time?

I have a wife and kids, so I just try to stay active as much as I can with them. We can’t go to facilities right now, so I’ll go to a track or field to run, and then I lift in my garage. I pretty much do the same work that I always do. No excuses, because sooner or later, this tough time will be over, and we’re going to be back playing. And I want to be in the best shape.