When Marcus Lattimore left the Williams-Brice Stadium field on Oct. 27, he thought he never would play football again, his father said.
“We hugged, and I told him everything would be OK,” Archie Lattimore said Wednesday after his son announced his decision to leave South Carolina one year early and enter the NFL draft. “He didn’t think so at the time. He thought everything was over with.”
Six weeks later, everything has taken a dramatic turn for the better. In fact, NFL teams that are considering drafting Lattimore next season could see him on the field in a game before the end of the 2013 season, team physician Dr. Jeffrey Guy said.
Guy spoke during Lattimore’s news conference Wednesday at the request of Lattimore’s family to give an update on the running back’s health. Lattimore tore three ligaments in his right knee, including the ACL, but suffered no other damage, Guy said.
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“There are so many different components of things you can injure,” Guy said. “He was blessed by the fact that he had a lot of really critical things that could have happened to his knee not happen. You look at a video and you say, ‘Wow, that’s an amazing thing to happen to a knee. They couldn’t possibly come back.’ But these days, we are able to put things back together and fix things that may not have been fixable 20 years ago.”
Lattimore could have suffered nerve damage, cartilage damage and blood flow issues because of his knee’s dislocation, any of which would have greatly decreased his chance of returning to football, Guy said, but none of those things occurred.
“The really good thing about our repair was Marcus only had to have one ligament out of his knee completely reconstructed and that was his ACL,” Guy said. “The rest of his ligaments were reattached or supplemented and reattached.”
Lattimore isn’t expected to need further surgeries and could be on the field between 12 and 15 months from his surgery date, which was the first week of November, Guy said. Guy examined Lattimore’s knee last week and “all his ligaments are doing perfect,” Guy said.
“It’ll all depend on how hard I want to work, and I am going to work as hard as I can,” Lattimore said. “I just have to work hard and see how I feel. If I feel good, it may be before then.”
Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee faced a situation similar to Lattimore’s in 2003, when he suffered a devastating knee injury late in the season and chose to enter the following year’s draft. McGahee did not play in 2003 but rushed for more than 1,000 yards the next season. He called Lattimore after Lattimore’s injury.
“His main message was go with your gut, do what you think is best for you,” Lattimore said.
Lattimore, who walked into Wednesday’s news conference with no crutches and a slight limp, will attend the NFL Combine in February but will not be able to run or perform any drills. Instead, he will go armed with a packet of medical information supplied to him by Guy and be put through a medical-testing marathon by NFL team doctors.
“They are going to exam his knee regardless of what I say. At the combine, there are three big, huge MRIs sitting right there. I could give him an MRI that is a day old and they will redo it,” Guy said.
Wednesday was the first time Lattimore spoke publicly since his injury.
“When it happened, I didn’t even feel it, but I knew something was wrong,” he said. “I just kind of went into shock.”
After his initial despondence, Lattimore’s spirit was buoyed, he said, by a visit from teammate Dylan Thompson several days after his injury.
“Right before he left, he said, ‘Remember, God doesn’t make mistakes.’ That really put it in perspective for me that this happened for a reason,” Lattimore said. “After that, I didn’t ask, ‘Why me?’ anymore.”