Over the years, Johnathan Joseph has been a mentor to many young players in the Houston Texans locker room, but the veteran cornerback has even inspired some of the best from around the NFL.
Stephon Gilmore, now a two-time First-Team All-Pro with the New England Patriots, grew up watching Joseph. The two both hail from the small town of Rock Hill, South Carolina. Gilmore, six years younger, even decided to play cornerback because of Joseph.
"Yeah it's crazy, I looked up to him as a kid," Gilmore said last week in Orlando. "Now that I'm in the league, he's still playing and on the field at a high level. I hope that one day I get to play that long, play that consistently, like he has. I always tell him that if he would have caught a lot of those breakups that he had, he'd be a Hall of Famer. He's a great player, great friend and he's one of the reasons I play the position right now."
Gilmore followed in Joseph's footsteps, playing cornerback at the University of South Carolina. Gilmore, a first-round draft selection (10th overall) for Buffalo, entered the league in 2012, six years after Joseph. He was unanimously voted to the Associated Press First-Team All-Pro after tying for the league lead with six interceptions, including two for touchdowns in 2019.
Joseph, a team captain for Houston, just finished his 14th NFL season and ninth with the Texans. He considers Gilmore a brother "for life" and the two still talk and text regularly.
"I talk to him all the time," Gilmore said. "He's good. He's seen a lot, seen a lot of players come in and come out. A lot of good coaches have coached him so when I ask him questions, he's seen a lot on and off the field. I'm happy he's on my side."
"I've been knowing Stephon forever, proud of him, ultimate competitor, top in the game, getting a lot of praise and rightfully so," Joseph said. "I've seen him work hard to get where he was, from the time in Buffalo."
Since he joined the Texans in 2011, Joseph leads the NFL in passes defensed with a franchise-record 118. He also has a franchise-best 16 interceptions.