John Sommers II
Marcus Lattimore wants to play Week 1. You probably shouldn't bet against him. SB Nation talked with the 2013 NFL Draft hopeful about his road to recovery.
South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore questioned his future after suffering an ugly knee injury against Tennessee in Oct. 2012.
"When it first happened, a couple hours after it happened, I thought about my future," Lattimore told SB Nation. "You know, is it really worth it?"
Lattimore entered the season as a Heisman candidate and a favorite to be the first running back taken in the 2013 NFL Draft. The latter was a greater possibility than the former by the time Oct. 27 came around. Playing with a hip injury, Lattimore was held to 48 yards rushing over two straight road losses to LSU and Florida just before the matchup against Tennessee. That week, with his playing status against the Vols unclear, teammates voted Lattimore to be a permanent team captain. Even if he was struggling at the time, Lattimore's importance to the Gamecocks never went overlooked.
Lattimore averaged 5.9 yards per carry on his way to 65 yards rushing in the first half. The 38th and final rushing touchdown of his college career came on a 28-yard scamper that exemplified everything Lattimore is as a football player: Speed and agility in a terrifyingly powerful frame. The Volunteers wanted no part of him.
Then disaster. Lattimore's right knee was pinned beneath defensive back Eric Gordon as linebacker Herman Lathers grabbed the running back by the hips and brought his bodyweight down against the bend of Lattimore's knee. As Lattimore's torso rolled onto to the turf, his leg swung out from under Gordon with the knee bent back. On ESPN, Dave Pasch said, "Lattimore is hurt." Brian Griese followed, "Oh, no."
Several Tennessee defenders check on Lattimore as he is being tended to by trainers. Then the South Carolina sideline clears to surround their teammate. The crowd erupts as Lattimore is carted away with a towel over his head. The governor of South Carolina declares the following Monday "Marcus Lattimore Day." Lattimore may not have realized it in the moment, but he now says that the support he received encouraged him to fight for his career.
"The support I got from people drove me to want to get there and be back on that field," Lattimore says. "There are some dark days, but I just think about how many people would want to be in my shoes, and how many people are in a hospital bed right now and how many people are starving right now, and that's really why I don't complain about anything that happens to me."
Before the injury, Lattimore was unsure whether or not to enter the NFL Draft. After the injury, the decision became easier.
"With the injury I had, I felt like I could go down to the Andrews Institute in Pensacola and get great care, work out twice a day and my focus would totally be on getting my legs stronger again, getting ready to play football again and have it be my career," Lattimore says. "I just felt like it was time for me to take that next step."
The goal is to be ready for the start of the 2013 NFL season, though there is a long way to go in rehab. Officially, Lattimore says he suffered a torn ACL along with a detached PCL and LCL. He is now in Florida doing squats and lunges to strengthen his knees. He is still at least three months away from going full speed, but he hopes to be able to move well enough to work out for NFL teams in the beginning of April. The 40-yard dash, however, is out of the question.
In the meantime, Lattimore is talking. Though he was inelligible to play, Lattimore was in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl to meet with NFL team scouts and brass. He says he heard a lot of positive feedback. Unfortunately, the future isn't any clearer.
"They all wish me well, they all told me I was a great player, and that everything is going to work out well in the draft," Lattimore says. "But they really did not give me any clue of where I'd land. ... I've heard every round."
The truth is, Lattimore is in uncharted waters. Adrian Peterson's climb back from a torn ACL to an MVP season is widely regarded as a modern wonder of the sports world, and even what he did pales in some ways to what Lattimore is attempting to do now. Not only is Lattimore's injury arguably more severe, this will be his second second stint rehabbing a torn ACL. He blew out his other knee in 2011 against Mississippi State.
Lattimore knows all of this. He knew it in the hours that transpired after the Tennessee game, too.
"After a couple days went by and I saw the support I got from a lot of people I felt like, ‘You know, I'm going to go through this, I'm going to come back from this, and I'm going to make this a great story,'" Lattimore says. "I'm going to come back and be the first person ever to come back from what I had. It's going to be a great story and I'm going to have a great career."
For Lattimore, perspective is everything and he's found the silver lining to shoot for.
"Whatever comes my way in life and in football, in anything, I will never break, nothing will break my happiness that I have in waking up every day and being able to train for the sport I love," says Lattimore. "I will be back on the field again, and I will be 100 percent. The plan is for it to begin Week 1."