GREENVILLE, SC — Trying times and setbacks are as much a part of Marcus Lattimore's life as touchdowns and comebacks.
And perhaps therein lies his key to success.
"Tonight is special because it's a testament to hard work and dedication," Lattimore said. "I've seen guys in the NFL and they have their foundations, but I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do.
"I figured out my purpose in life, and that's to help others through my story. This is a dream."
Lattimore, the former Byrnes High School and University of South Carolina football star, kicked off his new personal initiative with the Marcus Lattimore Foundation/DREAMS Kickoff Celebration on Thursday night at the Westin Poinsett in downtown Greenville.
The foundation's primary goal is to help youth leagues, parents, and high school and college athletes through programs and initiatives which emphasize Christian values, character, life-skills development, education, recreation and health and wellness.
DREAMS is an acronym for "Driven Righteously to Empower Athletes Minds Spiritually."
"I love South Carolina, I love the people here," Lattimore said. "They've supported me throughout everything I've been through, so it's only right that I give back."
Lattimore has been through plenty.
After a breakout freshman season in 2010 in which he rushed for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns while earning second-team All-America honors, Lattimore's mettle was tested as a sophomore when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the seventh game of the season.
Following an intensive year-long rehabilitation, Lattimore returned to the field as a junior only to suffer another severe knee injury against Tennessee in October. He hasn't played a down since, but that didn't prevent the San Francisco 49ers from selecting him in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
In fact, it was Lattimore's 49ers rookie card that jump-started the foundation last August. Vernon Smith, Lattimore's stepfather, conducted a raffle for a Lattimore card at the Byrnes vs. Woodruff football game last year, quickly raising $565.
They promptly donated the money toward the purchase of specially padded helmets that greatly curtail head injuries in practice.
By the time the family had negotiated a deal with the helmet manufacturer and Lattimore had added a substantial contribution, the Byrnes football team was equipped with 105 of the helmets.
"It kind of took off after that," Lattimore said.
Thursday night was the latest installment.
USC Athletic Director Ray Tanner was on hand for the kickoff dinner, auction and festivities, as was former Gamecocks football star and Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers.
Yolanda Smith, Lattimore's mother, shared a story of resilience a trait shared by each of the seven children she's raised or help raise and overcoming long odds.
"My message is never give up, because there's no cause to," Yolanda Smith said. "Out of adversity comes something like this this foundation. I never had an idea that the adversities we had to face would allow us to help so many people in so many ways."
Also on Thursday night, the USC Athletics Department announced the receipt of a gift presented to the Garnet Way Campaign that will establish an endowed football scholarship honoring Lattimore.
The endowment will provide a scholarship each year, given by the David Glenn family of Greenville, and will be awarded annually to a deserving football walk-on student athlete. Like Lattimore, the recipients shall be of the highest character and integrity while exhibiting exemplary leadership skills.
Lattimore, meanwhile, is looking forward to taking the field for the 49ers this fall, which will mark his first game action since October of 2012.
"I've worked as hard as I can, I've done everything I can," Lattimore said. "I'm excited. I'm just going to let it all loose that first game. It's going to be a special day."
Again, because it took some trying times and setbacks to get there.
"The injuries humbled me," Lattimore said. "It's an experience I wouldn't wish on anybody, but I'm glad I went through it. I learned so much. I grew up, I became a man.
"It was all in God's hands the whole time, and that's why this is happening right now."
YOU CAN HELP
Visit www.MarcusLattimoreFoundation.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org