A large contingent of Gamecock fans and national media packed Marcus Lattimore’s home church in Spartanburg, S.C. on the eve of National Signing Day 2010. They weren’t there for a Tuesday night sermon. South Carolina’s football dreams were soon-to-be fulfilled as long as the 6-foot, 200-pound five-star running back from Byrnes High School chose the Gamecocks over the Auburn Tigers. In a recruiting war three years in the making, Lattimore picked up the Gamecock hat and signed with his homestate squad over offers from several big-time programs included arch nemesis Clemson.
Prior to the Palmetto State-shattering announcement, Steve Spurrier danced a little jig in the living room of Yolanda Smith’s home during a final visit and the rest, as they say, was history.
“It sealed the deal,” Smith said two years ago about Spurrier’s Cha Cha Slide. “I think dancing shows off your human side, and it showed us that he’s a regular person like the rest of us.”
Spurrier might be ‘normal’ like the rest of us, but what Lattimore has shown over the last three years for the Gamecocks has been borderline superhuman.
The Head Ball Coach’s crown jewel of recruiting before Jadeveon Clowney, Lattimore was the key piece of the puzzle in capturing the program’s first SEC Eastern Division title in 2010 as a true freshman and was instrumental in regards to bringing the Gamecocks back to national relevancy. He’s been a key component in South Carolina’s current school-record streak of 45 consecutive weeks in the Associated Press Top 25 and made South Carolina the new ‘it’ program for in-state and several out-of-state highly-touted recruits.
Dubbed the state’s ‘Mr. Football’ in South Carolina as a prep senior, Lattimore’s held the same name throughout his college career in Columbia. His carries through the tackles are usually the main highlights of ESPN’s video previews of games and opposing coaches covet his perfect blend of power, vision and leadership. Off the field, he’s a leader of men, a spokesperson for Christian athletes who strive to make a positive impact on the community. Outside of his 2,677 career rushing yards and record-setting 41 touchdowns, he’s become the face of a franchise known as the Gamecocks.
Plagued by devastating injuries, Lattimore is an inspiration to all of his teammates. As a freshman, Lattimore missed most of the Chick-fil-A Bowl after breaking his jaw in the first quarter. In the seventh game of his sophomore season, Lattimore’s right ACL was torn at Mississippi State. Now this.
The latest setback is another road block in a football disciple’s journey to greatness, even if greatness has already been achieved in the hearts of many.
Though we’ve tried, Marcus Lattimore’s impact on the University of South Carolina and its fanbase can not be measured. Arguably the Gamecocks’ most well-respected player ever, and you’re talking about greats such as George Rogers, Harold Green and Sterling Sharpe, Lattimore’s effect on the Palmetto State is unmatched by any athlete. His catastrophic knee injury was felt nationwide over the weekend, an instant damper to an otherwise exciting Saturday.
The SEC lost one of its high character-driven players and an ambassador for college football for the foreseeable future. Lattimore will soon begin the rehabilitation process, something he’s already been through once, and attempt a comeback. I can’t even fathom the scene in September of 2014 when No. 21 appears from the tunnel at Williams-Brice Stadium. The ovation will be long-lasting, and rightfully so, for one of the best-ever — if not the best — to wear the Garnet and Black.
Looking back on Lattimore’s 30-game career, he’s had quite a few jaw-dropping afternoons as a running back, most coming against SEC competition. South Carolina has relied on its workhorse to win a variety of games in the trenches, a few program-changing. Lattimore’s taken a beating over the last three years, has never complained once and immediately looked toward the future after his first serious knee injury. He’s lifted the Gamecocks close to the proverbial promised land and may still have some gas left in the tank. If he never plays another down, however, South Carolina football owes a great debt to the contributions he has made as a 21-year-old college student.
The Debut: Sept. 2, 2010 — Lattimore walked on the turf at Williams-Brice as a true freshman starting tailback and delivered two touchdowns in the second quarter against Southern Miss. The victory was Spurrier’s 18th straight season-opening win.
The Comparison: Sept. 11, 2010 — Soon after Lattimore closed the book on a Herculean 37-carry, 182-yard effort in college game No. 2 against Georgia, comparison’s to Herschel Walker began. He didn’t have another 100-yard game until five weeks later against Tennessee, but managed eight touchdowns over that span.
The Saturday: Oct. 9, 2010 — College Gameday’s second trip to Columbia during the Spurrier years. Nick Saban and Alabama’s long winning streak following a 2009 national title. Lattimore helped the Gamecocks take down the SEC Western Division giant that hot afternoon with two touchdowns and South Carolina was on top of the world the following week. As far as home victories go, this was a program-changer.
The Heisman: Nov. 13, 2010 — In what I consider South Carolina’s best win in school history (better than the home victory over top-ranked and unbeaten Alabama), Lattimore toted the football 40 times for 212 yards and three touchdowns to help the Gamecocks clinch the SEC East and win for the first time in history at Florida. The freshman’s memorable night made him a Heisman front-runner during the following preseason.
The Beast: Sept. 17, 2011 — South Carolina needed every one of Lattimore’s career-high 246 yards in a 24-21 win over Navy when the passing game proved ineffective under Stephen Garcia. Lattimore scored all of the team’s touchdowns to help avoid the upset.
The Gasp: Oct. 15, 2011 — Lattimore was well on his way to a 1,000-yard, SEC Offensive Player of the Year season until a knee injury in Week 7 in Starkville sidelined him for the remainder of his sophomore campaign. The Gamecocks went on to win five of their next six and capture the school’s first-ever 11-win season.
The Return: Aug. 30, 2012 — Noticeably hesitant and not 100 percent, Lattimore fumbled his first carry at Vanderbilt in his return from injury. He responded with a touchdown run on South Carolina’s next possession and finished with 110 yards as the Gamecocks opened with a win.
Lattimore will likely redshirt next season and put on the pads again as a fifth-year senior in 2014. Whether or not he’ll be an effective player remains to be seen, but that’s the last thing on the minds of Spurrier, fans and the rest of college football. We want to see Marcus persevere and excel through his road to recovery and most of all, continue to be the program’s guiding light away from football.