INDIANAPOLIS - It was perhaps the most heart-wrenching moment of the 2012 college football season.
South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore was in the midst of a solid game against Tennessee. But in the second quarter, on his 11th carry, Lattimore's right leg was smashed between two Volunteers players. Lattimore hit the ground, clutching his leg in agony.
The worst was expected. Lattimore suffered a season-ending left knee injury in 2011. With his right knee twisted and mangled against Tennessee, some (even coach Steve Spurrier) wondered if Lattimore's football career was over.
While the injury was quite severe, the injury wasn't quite as damaging as first expected. Lattimore suffered a dislocated kneecap and had extensive damage to multiple ligaments.
At one time, Lattimore was considered by far the best running back prospect eligible for the draft. A certain first round lock. Some compared him to Minnesota Vikings superstar Adrian Peterson. Now, despite being ahead of schedule in his rehab, Lattimore's draft fate is cloudy. He doesn't seem to mind.
"At this point it doesn't really matter where I get drafted," Lattimore said at the NFL Combine on Friday. "I'm going to go in there and work hard and do what I do and do what I've been doing my whole career and that's just being myself. If I get a chance to play this year I'm going to make the most out of it. And I feel I will."
Lattimore won't workout in Indianapolis, but he told the media it was just a blessing to be in attendance.
"I just think about guys who are less fortunate than me, guys who would kill to be in my shoes right now, even with the injury," Lattimore said. "That's what keeps me going, that's what keeps me motivated."
During his rehabilitation, Lattimore said he is being inspired by other players who have had knee issue. He looks up to none more than Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee, who tore his ACL, MCL and PCL in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.
"As you know he had a similar injury, pretty much the same kind of injury, so that's helped me a lot," Lattimore said. "Guys always bring that up when I come in there and talk. Willis came back from it. He's a guy that worked hard, and that's what I am going to do."
Although Lattimore will continue working hard, he may not be ready to play in 2013. He's been getting treatment from the renowned Dr. James Andrews as he recovers. Andrews told ESPN that it's important for Lattimore to do what's best for his career and not necessarily this season.
"Yes, he can play if everything continues to go well," Andrews told ESPN. "He's way ahead of schedule for somebody with that injury. This kid is a delight. He's probably got the finest character of any athlete I've worked with. He's just a joy as a person. You've gotta set goals, and the goal is the regular season in 2013."
Most NFL prospects go through two hours of medical checkups in Indianapolis and see a handful of doctors. Lattimore's medical check lasted four hours and was seen by a doctor from ever NFL team.
"I think it went very well because a lot of guys were surprised by how strong my quads were and how strong my hamstrings were and how tight my ligaments were," Lattimore said. "I think it went pretty good.
"They're investing a lot of money in you, so I understand the process and why they have to make sure everything is OK and everything is progressing."
When he is ready to play, Lattimore said he won't be afraid to take a hit, despite the two serious knee injuries.
"No, not at all," he said. "I’ve been hit 2,000 times and that happened twice. So not even thinking about it.
"It happened for a reason, and the reason was for me to come back and inspire a lot of people."
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