Chapel Hill High alum takes unlikely path to first Super Bowl

It was not the "Welcome to the NFL" moment Cam Gill had imagined. During a scrimmage portion of a training camp practice as an undrafted rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Gill evidently made a pass rush move so good, he violated -- if only barely -- a cardinal rule: do not touch the quarterback. Especially if that quarterback is Tom Brady.

"I was coming around the offensive tackle, we just got our feet tangled up and he fell back," said Gill. "My heart dropped instantly. They're going to clean out my locker and send me home."

Fortunately for Gill, Brady was just fine, and coaches were not angry. Gill said he apologized to the veteran quarterback in the locker room, and was heartened to hear Brady tell him not to worry, and to keep that energy for when they faced "the bad guys" in the regular season.

Perhaps Brady saw something in the undrafted linebacker and Chapel Hill High School alum; and apparently, he was right. Gill made the Bucs team out of training camp, a feat made more difficult for an undrafted player by a lack of preseason games to prove himself. He was first active in Week 5 against the Bears, and has turned into a valuable member of Tampa Bay's special teams units and reserve player on defense.

Gill has always envisioned himself getting to this point, even if others may have not.

"The odds have always been stacked against me," said Gill. "It just keeps adding to that chip that's on my shoulder."

Gill is used to overcoming doubts. In high school, he dreamed of being a college tight end, and was initially a little disappointed when coaches moved him to the defensive side of the ball. He enjoyed a standout senior season, but only received one Division I scholarship offer, to FCS school Wagner College in Staten Island, New York.

"I never lost sight of my dream, because I didn't get a Power 5 or FBS offer," said Gill. "I didn't say, 'I'm not going to the NFL.' I was like, 'I've got to work twice as hard.'"

Gill may have lacked tons of interest from big-time college programs, but his former high school coach points out an underrated part of Gill's high school achievements that worked in his favor, something he reminds his current players of whenever he talks about Gill.

"Even though he was under-recruited, it was his academics that got him where we went to school," said Chapel Hill head coach Justin DeShon. "Without those academics, I'm not sure that would've happened for him. I think now, people get wrapped up in being a Divison 1 guy, a power 5 guy, he just took control of his situation. He knew he loved the game, knew he had ability, and he's fought for everything he's got."

His family agrees.

"His path was different, and he's still living out his childhood dream," said Gill's mother Chinza Williams.

Williams says she never missed a game of Gill's, from youth leagues through middle school and high school, and flew to New York for all Gill's college home games. This year, as it has for so many, has been different.

The family made the choice to not attend any of Gill's games due to the threat of COVID-19, which hit close to home on a few occasions. They are not changing that plan even though Gill is in the Super Bowl.

"We've lost a family member to COVID, I lost my boss to COVID," said Williams. "Just being hit hard and close with it, we didn't want to risk going through that process. "

Gill says he understands, and admits not seeing his family has been tough since they are so tight-knit. He's taken care to FaceTime his family from winning locker rooms and save them gear from games so they can feel like part of the experience.

"I want to share this with everyone who's supported my through the years, everyone who had a hand in the pile," said Gill. "It's not just me, it's for everybody."