In three months of draft preparation, San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh learned about Marcus Lattimore what South Carolina fans feel like they have known forever.
“He’s a very unique person. You don’t come across this person very often. There are a lot of good people out there, but I think Marcus is extremely unique,” Harbaugh told NFL Network after his team selected the former Gamecock running back Saturday in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. “We’re really excited about him. He’s a great person, a great talent. I had a wonderful conversation with Marcus, also Marcus’ mother, and told them that very same thing.”
Lattimore, who left South Carolina after three seasons after having reconstructive surgery on both knees in the last 18 months, was taken with the 131st overall pick, not nearly as high as he would have gone without his injury history but much higher than many, including himself, thought on Oct. 27 when he tore three ligaments in his right knee during a win over Tennessee at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“Right after it happened I doubted myself, I did do that and I lost hope,” Lattimore said on a conference call Saturday following his selection. “But one of my good friends came over, I got a chance to talk to (San Francisco running back) Frank Gore, and I realized God doesn’t make mistakes. He did everything for a reason, and he put me in this situation. Now I’m with the 49ers. It’s just a great, great situation for me.”
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Gore, who is the 49ers’ all-time leading rusher, also suffered two major knee injuries in college, and he called Lattimore within three days of Lattimore’s injury to offer his support, Lattimore said.
“Yeah, he’s definitely an inspiration,” Lattimore said. “He knew he could come back from what he had, and he worked hard, and he was determined to come back. It was just a great situation for him. He came in the league and he’s been doing his thing for a while. He just kept that positive mindset. Everything happens for a reason, and I realize that.”
Lattimore is South Carolina’s career touchdowns leader (41) despite playing in just 29 games. He left school as the Gamecocks’ sixth-leading rusher with 2,677 yards on 555 carries. Harbaugh told the NFL Network that the team will not play Lattimore until he is 100 percent healthy and conceded that might not be this season.
“We really haven’t even talked about that, so, I don’t have any clue,” Lattimore said. “But, my main goal right now is to go in there and work hard, go in there and learn the offense. And, if I’m ready to play, I’m going to play. If I’m not, I’m not. I know it’s going to be the best decision. I know the coaches and the doctors are going to make a great decision. So, I’m not worried about it.”
Lattimore is joining a team coming off a Super Bowl appearance and with Gore entrenched as a starter, so he will have plenty of time to round into shape without the pressure of having to carry a heavy load, if any load, as a rookie.
“You know what, it’s still surreal to me,” he said. “This is a great opportunity with a great organization and I just can’t wait to get there. I’ve always been a fan of those guys, just their style of play and how they do everything. I’m so excited I get to work with all the great running backs and everybody on the team. It’s just going to be a great experience.”