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On The Right Path

There's no questioning the physical tools South Medford senior Kevin Gilmore has at his disposal. Few running backs in the Southwest Conference can match them.

Standing 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Gilmore has the power to reject just about any would-be tackler. Even with such bulky stature, Gilmore has enough speed to turn the corner on a defense and pull away from the pack.

But these are elements that Gilmore has always been able to lean on ever since he took up the game of football as an eighth grader at Hedrick Middle School. So why has it taken him until now to show he can be a consistent force on the field? To put it bluntly, he grew up.

"I'm applying myself more now "… a lot more," says Gilmore, 17. "It's my senior year and I've got to take on more of a leadership role in everything I do. It's all about growing up and maturing, and I definitely feel like I'm on that path right now."

The results from the personal turnaround have certainly been evident, on and off the field. Gilmore has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in both of the Panthers' games thus far, and his life beyond the game has gotten much more fruitful.

"He's gotten himself in better shape, he's a better team player and he's a better person," says South Medford head coach Bill Singler of his starting tailback.

"He's coming to school, he's accountable to his teammates, he's accountable to his parents, he's accountable to his coaches. That, I think, is the biggest single factor, his accountability. He cares and the team sees it."

Gilmore doesn't dispute any of those areas, admitting to getting caught up in putting friends before anything else. Anyone who spends two minutes with him can tell he's an intelligent, well-spoken young man, but homework is never fun when there's so many more fun ways to spend your free time.

From Singler to teammates to any number of other well-wishers, Gilmore spent the better part of last season having advice heaped on him on what he needed to do to fulfill his potential. At the end of the day, the extra prodding by his mother Ameran was what finally broke down Gilmore's tough outer shell.

"That's probably what changed it and turned it around for me," Gilmore says of his mom's heartfelt plea to put things together to set up a future in college athletics. "No kid likes to be told what to do so I didn't listen at first, but they all kept telling me and telling me and then I finally went out and said OK and listened. I get it now."

His love of football or desire to play was never in question. That skyrocketed from the first moment he put on the pads as a middle schooler through some prodding by his peers. Although bigger than most of those around him, he opted to give running back a try.

"They said whoever can run the biggest guy over first can play running back, and that's what I did," says Gilmore, who has filled that role ever since.

He averaged nearly 5 yards per carry last season, totaling 371 yards and three touchdowns on 77 carries, but essentially lost his starting role due to his here one day, gone the next status.

Rejuvenated in purpose, Gilmore ran for three scores and 100 yards in a win over South Salem to open 2010. Last Friday, he totaled 110 yards and one TD and enters Friday's 25th annual Black and Blue Bowl averaging 6.2 yards per carry despite being the focus of defensive schemes.

"Last week if you would've told me he would've gotten over 100 yards going against seven or eight guys in the box, I'd have said you're crazy, and he did," says Singler. "That just shows you that Kevin Gilmore's a very strong runner to get that kind of yardage when, really, you shouldn't be running the ball with that many guys inside the box."

Facing such long odds would seem daunting to some, but Gilmore says he and his teammates thrive on the challenge.

"It actually makes it more fun for me because it's more of a challenge," he says. "It gives our offensive line and fullbacks more stuff to do, but I think the competition gets our adrenaline up because we know we're going to have a face-to-face war.

"You've just got to get what you get and go back in the huddle and get ready for the next play, and then go out and try to get more and more."

While no running back is going to move such a pile every time, Gilmore says he's more adept than ever at gaining positive yardage — be it 2 yards or 10 yards.

"Last year I just read the holes and then saw when to cut," he says, "but this year I can actually see the holes developing more so I can actually know when to cut ahead of time."

It's that better feel for the game and for the South Medford offense that has Gilmore excited about a promising senior season.

It's all the other stuff that simply has Singler and many others excited about Gilmore's future in general.

"We hope to see that accountability each and every game and so far he has not disappointed," says the coach. "His commitment has been there and that means a whole, whole lot to me and that means a lot to our team. I'm really happy about Kevin's performance so far this year, and the person he's become."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

South Medford senior running back Kevin Gilmore has rushed for over 100 yards in each of his first two games this season. - Denise Baratta