COLUMBIA — Running back Marcus Lattimore plans to show off the progress in his injured right knee at South Carolina’s pro day next week.
Lattimore told The Associated Press on Tuesday he’s still about a month away from getting the green light for full-out sprints, yet may catch a few passes an lift weights for NFL personnel attending the session on March 27.
Lattimore hurt his right knee against Tennessee in a horrific injury last October. He dislocated his knee and tore several ligaments as he was tackled on a carry late in the first half. Lattimore had surgery the next month, then gave up his final year of college by declaring for the NFL draft in December. Ever since, Lattimore has trained in Pensacola, Fla., at the Andrews Intstitute and Athletes Performance facilities.
“I feel like I can do just about anything as I could before,” Lattimore said.
He made that case to NFL teams at last month’s scouting combine in Indianapolis. He spent about three or four hours getting checked out by team physicians and had his own surgeon, James Andrews, on hand to answer questions about the knee.
Lattimore believes he’ll be ready to play football in the fall, although Andrews said last month the road to Lattimore’s comeback was still a long one.
“It’s going to take a special effort,” Andrews told the NFL Network at the combine.
Lattimore knows about putting forth effort.
He was an instant star in the Southeastern Conference after rushing for 182 yards and two touchdowns in his first league game, a 17-6 victory over Georgia in 2010. Lattimore led the SEC in rushing most of 2011 when he tore a ligament and suffered cartilage damage in his left knee, missing the final six games of South Carolina’s season.
Lattimore dug into rehab after surgery and was back running full speed two months before the Gamecocks began practice for 2012. Lattimore looked his strong, assured self on the field, leading the Gamecocks with 662 yards rushing when he stunningly went down for a second straight season in the opening half of a 38-35 victory over Tennessee.
Lattimore doesn’t remember the hit, just waking up in the hospital, his future as a rock-solid first-round draft pick gone.
“I thought maybe I wouldn’t be able to play anymore,” he said.
Soon, though, Lattimore was bolstered by texts and Tweets from family, friends, fans and athletes he’d never met, like Miami Heat forward LeBron James and New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. The Gamecocks held a rally on campus two days after the injury on Lattimore’s birthday. In the coming days, he’d heard from NFL runners Willis McGahee and Frank Gore, both who excelled in the pros after similarly devastating injuries.
The support refocused his mind and gave him a clarity about what he needed to do to return to the field. Lattimore trains twice a day most weeks, running in a pool, and strengthening the knee and surrounding muscles. He sees Andrews several times a week and has gotten nothing but glowing reports from the surgeon about the knee’s progress.
Lattimore never gave credence to the idea that his injury would make South Carolina All-American Jadeveon Clowney want to give sit out his junior year and wait for the 2014 NFL draft. However, Lattimore was glad Clowney purchased a $5 million insurance policy. Lattimore said he bought $1.8 million worth of insurance through the NCAA’s program prior to his sophomore season, then renewed it as a junior.
“It just makes sense to have,” Lattimore said.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Lattimore’s drive will make him a success in football and whatever he does once his athletic career ends. Lattimore was a team leader during offseason drills, often showing up and running when teammates had stadium steps to do as team punishments. The Gamecocks lost only one of their 10 games the past two seasons after Lattimore’s injuries.
“We played at a (high) level because of him,” Spurrier said of Lattimore. “We just kept carrying on the way Marcus always did.”
The hardest part for Lattimore is being on his own in Florida without family, teammates and college coaches to lean on during difficult times.
Lattimore keeps himself busy on weekends speaking with youth groups and at church functions. He appeared at a Greenville Boys & Girls Club youth clinic this past Saturday, sharing his story of overcoming injury.
“It’s something everybody can relate to,” he said. “I hope to show people if you just stay positive, you can recover and come out stronger than you were.”