Published July 6, 2012 - 1:14pm
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After just 20 career games, it’s a name right up there with Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers as far as South Carolina football fans are concerned.
The former Mr. Football in the Palmetto State was the centerpiece of the Gamecocks’ 2010 run to the school’s first-ever SEC East title, a reliable weapon alongside Stephen Garcia and Alshon Jeffery.
An 18-touchdown, 1,197-yard freshman season sparked early Herschel Walker-type comparisons and supplied more than enough Heisman buzz for his sophomore campaign. Lattimore’s coming out party was a 182-yard, two-touchdown effort against Georgia that he equaled the following year in Athens. At the time, he was on pace to score more touchdowns and challenge for Walker’s single-season SEC yards mark.
One fluke fall ended the player of the year and record-breaking chatter talks two months early.
The nationwide hype, along with South Carolina’s BCS dreams, shifted Oct. 15, 2011 at Mississippi State when the stud from Duncan, S.C., tore a ligament in his knee. Pundits praising the next great SEC tailback and future NFL lottery pick paused for a moment.
Now, the questions remain.
Will he be the same hard-nosed ballcarrier who chose to run through — rather than around — the opposition?
How much will his surgically-repaired knee affect his change of direction?
Can he still hit the hole like a steam engine without worry?
Knowing Lattimore’s spirit and all-or-nothing mentality, he’ll be back with a mindset to lead. Even if he’s a step slower or not quite as powerful, his presence on the sideline alone makes the Gamecocks a better football team.
Lattimore missed all of spring practice nursing the injury, but began workouts — specifically agility and motion drills — in May. His road to recovery has been a grueling process, one filled with emotional hurdles that include a teary-eyed road trip to Knoxville and a gingerly stroll across the field after South Carolina’s Capital One Bowl win in Orlando.
Lattimore is part of the 1-2 punch with quarterback Connor Shaw that Steve Spurrier plans on using to tire the opposition and control the clock. It’s a formula that’s worked for the Gamecocks each of the last two seasons. Twenty wins later, the gameplan won’t change.
Lattimore’s numbers, when healthy, are staggering.
- Scored at least one touchdown in 15 of 20 career games
- Rushed for over 100 yards eight times
- Rushed for over 175 yards five times
- Averages nearly 13 yards per catch
- Less than 5 loss fumbles on 460 career touches
The Gamecocks will hang their hats on the defense this season with bookends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, but Lattimore’s return is one of the chief reasons most see South Carolina as a Top 10 team.
We’re all anticipating Lattimore’s triumphant return to the huddle on Aug. 30.
All of us except the Commodores.