No matter how many fans are at Center Parc Stadium for Georgia State football’s home, season and Sun Belt Conference opener Saturday, redshirt senior Shamarious Gilmore should have one of the biggest rooting sections.

The offensive guard, from nearby Riverdale and a graduate of Drew High, has plenty of support from his large family and his friends, who get to watch an interesting game this week as the Panthers host 19th-ranked Louisiana, fresh off a win over No. 23 Iowa State.

“I have a big family,” Gilmore said. I have a 11 sisters and two brothers. … We all love each other. I talk to them every day. It’s a good feeling when you can play and just have that connection with them. That’s why my crowd is so big every home game.”

Gilmore typically gives his supporters plenty to cheer about.

The 6-foot-3, 295-pounder is the leader of the Georgia State line, a three-year starter who has earned All-Sun Belt honors each of his first three seasons while starting 37 straight games. He has been a key figure in back-to-back school-record rushing seasons, including 2019, when he blocked for an offense that set school records for rushing yards (3,141), rushing touchdowns (30), total offense (5,818), first downs (305), touchdowns (53) and points (406).

He enters the season on the watch list for the prestigious Outland Trophy and as a first-team selection on several preseason all-conference teams. He also is a player his younger teammates — who call him Quion (pronounced Kwon), short for his middle name, Da’Quion — seek out for guidance.

“This is my fifth year, I’m a senior, so a lot of people look at me as a leader,” Gilmore said. “I just try to lead by example. Talk when I have to, but basically just showing everyone, just being the role model, the one people can look at and say, ‘Okay, he’s going to do it right. I better get behind him.’”

With the doubts cast by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gilmore is excited to be back on the football field for practices and games.

“We’re just happy to get back to the game we love,” he said.

Gilmore has loved the progression of the Georgia State offense that emphasizes the run much more than when he arrived out of high school. The Panthers averaged 241.6 rushing yards, 13th best in FBS, last season and stockpiled games with huge rushing yardage, including school-record games against Arkansas State (340 yards), Coastal Carolina (350 yards), Troy (390 yards) and Louisiana-Monroe (414 yards).

“I love (the offense),” Gilmore said. “When I first got here, we were more of a passing team. As an offensive line, we just came together and said the standard that’s set right now isn’t good enough. We all came together and put it on our backs to do whatever needs to be done.”

As good as the football fit, and more specifically the offensive fit, has been for Gilmore, he has been equally pleased with Georgia State off the field. He graduated in May with a degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in human and growth development, and found a college that kept him close to his family for regular visits throughout the school year.

“I’m ecstatic every single day (I chose Georgia State),” he said. “I have no regret about coming to Georgia State. I stayed 25 minutes away and I can see my family when I want to. It’s just been an amazing feeling. I came up here, promised everybody I would do right, promised Mama I would get my college degree, which I did. It’s just fun playing in your city. I always have my own little crowd at the game. It’s just fun playing in front of family, friends and loved ones.”

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