If there is a name that's become synonymous with South Carolina football in the past three years, it's Marcus Lattimore.
Coming out of Byrnes High School in Duncan, S.C., Lattimore was a consensus five-star recruit that every school in the country wanted. You would think that a player with such accolades would be considered a prima donna, but that's not the case with Lattimore.
This is a young man that was very involved with his community and church at such a young age. He was in the spotlight throughout his high school career yet handled everything with grace.
When it came time to choose a school, Lattimore settled on South Carolina and likely changed the landscape of the Gamecocks football program.
The Gamecocks were coming off a 7-6 season in 2009 and in dire need of something positive following the PapaJohns.com bowl loss to Connecticut. At that point, USC was 35-28 under head coach Steve Spurrier and had yet to win more than eight games under Spurrier. It appeared that maybe Steve Spurrier would be unable to turn South Carolina into a winner.
Well that all changed when Marcus Lattimore signed on the dotted line in February of 2010.
Lattimore burst onto the scene in the second week of the season in 2010 with a 182-yard performance against the Georgia Bulldogs. He became an overnight sensation in college football, yet remained the grounded individual that he always was. He helped South Carolina defeat No. 1 Alabama that season and ran for 212 yards and three touchdowns in the SEC East-clinching victory over the Florida Gators in the Swamp. It was South Carolina's first division title and it all was in large part due to the efforts of Marcus Lattimore.
It was clear as day against the Georgia Bulldogs on that September afternoon that Marcus Lattimore was a special talent. You could tell that he was a type of player that could change the game with his powerful running style and his leadership. The Gamecocks relied on Lattimore a lot in his freshman season and he stepped up to the challenge each and every time.
Lattimore continued to show off his superb talents in 2011 as he added another big performance against the Georgia Bulldogs with 176 rushing yards. Lattimore rushed for 246 yards against Navy in a much closer than expected matchup. Things were going great for the sophomore running back until that fateful afternoon in Starkville, Mississippi. Lattimore was out near the sideline, blocking on a running play. A player rolled into his leg and instantly you could tell there was a problem. As it turned out, Lattimore suffered a severe knee injury that would end his 2011 campaign prematurely.
The question came up and would be how does South Carolina recover from this loss? Well, the answer was right there in front of them – as a team. Lattimore was the ultimate teammate who was willing to help out and do the little things. Yes, he may have reached superstar status in the college football world, but he thought of himself as another one of the guys. The Gamecocks took that team mindset and rolled off five wins in their last six games to reach 11 wins for the first time in school history.
2012 had a lot of optimism around the Gamecocks' program, but most people were excited about the return of Marcus Lattimore. The now junior running back had worked himself in game shape and was able to take part in full team practices in the start of August. South Carolina had its star back. How would they respond?
They responded well.
Six straight wins to start the season had the Gamecocks right in the mix with the national title talk midway through the 2012 campaign. Things were on a roll for the Gamecocks and Lattimore was slowly coming around to the player we all were used to in a South Carolina uniform.
However, two straight losses quickly derailed South Carolina's national title dreams and dashed their SEC Championship dreams as well.
Nothing, however, would come close to the heartbreaking moment when Marcus Lattimore went down with an injury against Tennessee in October. Lattimore took the handoff from Shaw and was hit from behind by Tennessee's Herman Lathers. Defensive back Eric Gordon went low from in front and Lattimore instantly went to the ground.
You could tell there was a problem as Lattimore grabbed his right knee in pain.
As Lattimore remained on the ground with teammates and physicians rushing to his aid, Williams-Brice Stadium went silent. You could feel the sense of upset over every single person in attendance that day. No one should have to suffer through this especially Marcus Lattimore.
Yet here we are.
We have a young man that will be put through one of the toughest times of his life…again.
However, out of the injury comes an amazing moment. Both South Carolina and Tennessee all huddled around Marcus Lattimore as he remained on the ground. The teams joined in a prayer for the injured Lattimore.
What player in college football would command the respect of their opponent to all come out on the field and show their support like that?
I'm not sure many can and that explains why Marcus Lattimore is such a special human being.
South Carolina may eventually find a person who can break Lattimore's records at South Carolina like the all-time touchdown record. Maybe they'll have someone break onto the scene and become an instant sensation and change the landscape of college football.
But…odds are they won't find an individual that has meant more to the program than Marcus Lattimore.
That's what makes him special.
Lattimore the start of something special
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