Marcus Lattimore claims he is back, healthy and ready to run. That’s great news for South Carolina, not so great news for the Gamecock SEC opponents.
The dazzling running back – a combination of great vision, power and speed – tore an ACL last year, a crushing blow for an athlete that needs the ball in his hands. But just as he is with the ball, Lattimore worked hard in rehab and toughed it out.
But it was not easy because, he said to cbssports.com, he’s not so patient.
“I had to wait to run,” he said. “Then I had to wait to cut and then wait to spin. I knew I could do it but I had to wait. It was so hard.”
Lattimore burst upon the scene the way he attacks holes – with force. Against Georgia in only his second college game in 2010, Lattimore carried the ball 37 times for 182 yards in a 17-6 win over the Bulldogs in Columbia.
He was so good that coach Steve Spurrier, a renowned throw-it-first play-caller, eschewed his instincts and built the offense around Lattimore’s skills.
“Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to be pitching it around the ball park when you’ve got somebody like Marcus,” Spurrier said.
He made Spurrier’s decision look genius, leading South Carolina to its first-ever SEC championship game. Lattimore finished his freshman year with more than 1,100 yards.
But then came Oct. 15, 2011 in Starkville, Miss. Lattimore was blocking for teammate Bruce Ellington when a Mississippi State defender rolled up on his left knee. It wasn’t a good feeling.
“It seems like it just happened yesterday,” said Lattimore. “I’ll never forget it because it changed a lot of things for me.”
Lattimore’s mother, Yolanda Smith, came out of the stands to comfort her son. Lattimore had a huge brace on his leg as he hobbled off the field on crutches, his mother by his side.
The next day Spurrier made the announcement: “Our worst fears were realized.” Lattimore’s season was over. His future as a football player was uncertain at best.
“Was I scared? Yeah. I knew it was bad,” he said.
But he is back, with lessons learned.
“I learned that no matter what I do, it’s [football] is not going to last forever,” said Lattimore. “An injury can take away what you’ve been doing your whole life. It put a whole lot into perspective for me.”
Here’s some perspective: Lattimore needs 1,041 yards to become the second-leading rusher in South Carolina history behind Rogers (5,204 career yards), the 1980 Heisman Trophy winner. He needs just five touchdowns rushing to reach 32 and pass Rogers as South Carolina’s all-time leader. If he gets through this season relatively healthy, it’s a fair assumption that he will not return to college in 2013.
But it is also fair to assume that Lattimore won’t have to be as much of a workhorse this season. In his absence last season senior Kenny Miles and sophomore Brandon Wilds both had 100-yard games. Redshirt freshman Shon Carson suffered a torn ACL in the second game with Georgia and became Lattimore’s rehab buddy. He will figure into the mix.
“I don’t have to take 30 or more carries anymore,” said Lattimore, who has two 37-carry games and one 40-carry game (Florida in 2010) in his career. “Our goal is to be the best running back group in America. We want to be like LSU with 4-5 guys they use to wear the defenses down.”