SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Marcus Lattimores bad right wheel isnt up to full speed, but the wheels in his head are spinning in overdrive.
Ill be better than I was when I was playing at 100 percent, no doubt, said Lattimore, a South Carolina running back drafted in the fourth round by the San Francisco 49ers in April.
Lattimore, who suffered a catastrophic knee injury last fall, feels hes capable of participating in training camp. But he also respects the 49ers decision not to rush his recovery. Hes on the active/non-football injury list, meaning he counts against the 90-man roster limit and can be activated at any time before final cuts. Still, hes expected to miss most of his rookie season, if not all.
I could play now, without question, he said after a recent workout with a team trainer. I probably wouldnt look my best. But if I was called upon, it could happen.
Heading into last season, Lattimore was college footballs top running back prospect and on track to be an NFL first-rounder. At 5 feet, 111/2 inches and 232 pounds, he had size to go with his speed. But on Oct. 27 with millions of viewers covering their eyes for the replays his right knee bent the wrong way, dislocated, and left him with three torn ligaments.
The likable Lattimore recently had recovered from an injury to his left knee the season before, but this one was much worse. His football future was in doubt, a jolting reminder that even the most promising of careers can end on a given play.
Among the first wave of sympathetic callers was 49ers running back Frank Gore, who didnt know him personally but had overcome two major knee injuries in college. Mike Chasanoff in 49ers public relations tracked down a number for Lattimore, handed Gore the phone, and a wounded-knee brotherhood was born.
I went through it too, Gore said. You have something like that, and everybody starts questioning you about something you love to do. It messes with your head. You think about it: Is this for you? Do you still want to play? Youve got to have a strong mind.
Lattimore, who had 41 touchdowns in his college career, concedes he had moments of hopelessness afterward, even after his knee was repaired in November by renowned surgeon James Andrews. The road to recovery was long and tortuous.
His persistence paid off and won him even more respect among NFL evaluators. After his pro day in March, he got a standing ovation from the coaches and scouts in attendance.
Now, with four more months of recovery, hes beginning to feel normal again.
The first six, seven months, youve got a lot of stiffness when you wake up in the morning or when youre sitting in the car a long time, he said. But it comes around. After eight or nine months, my knee was feeling real good. Honestly, when you walk around, I wouldnt feel it. Of course, I have to warm up and give my knee a good stretch when Im about to run, and after I do that it feels natural.
That doesnt mean the 49ers are in a hurry to get him back on the field. They have a top-shelf running back in Gore, and have the luxury to bring him along gradually with no absolute timetable for his return.
Were going to slow things down for him physically, coach Jim Harbaugh said in May. I love his mental approach to it the aggressive mental approach that hes taken though this whole process. But were going to slow the aggressive physical down and make sure Marcus is going to be 100 percent healthy before hes out there on the field. I told him that, and shared that with his mother.
Added Harbaugh: If he doesnt play this year, then he doesnt play this year. I think if anybody can overcome what hes been through, its him.
Thats got to be a relief and a frustration for Lattimore, whos not accustomed to taking his foot off the accelerator. He has seen Minnesotas Adrian Peterson return from a devastating injury in less than a year, rush for 2,000 yards, and win the NFLs most-valuable-player award. And this season, he sees Washingtons Robert Griffin III on the same freakishly fast recovery path.
Those guys are inspirations to me, Lattimore said.
As for his recovery, Lattimore is trying to stay patient, but he cannot envision sitting out the entire season.
My best-case scenario is in Week 10 something like that, I get out there and will be full speed and ready to go, he said.
Meanwhile, he knows that people in the sports world are keeping an eye on his comeback.
I guess America is a country of stories like this, he said. Just going through adversity and being able to get back up. People gravitate toward that, I feel, because just when youre on your job and you dont feel like getting back up, you think about that.
Marcus Lattimore commemorative issue
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