Yolanda Smith shared her dramatic personal story Wednesday morning at the YMCA of Columbia’s annual prayer breakfast and then her third child shared how that story has affected his at times uneven path.
“Everything she has been through, I feel like that’s where I get my strength from to keep pushing,” Marcus Lattimore said. “That’s why I’m so relentless in everything I do because she is in me. For her to get up here and have that courage to tell that crazy story that she has is great.”
Lattimore, the former South Carolina running back who was selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers, was one of a crowd of several hundred listening as Smith delivered the featured message at the event, which was co-sponsored by the Palmetto Center for Women and the YMCA’s Christian Emphasis Committee and held at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. Gamecocks junior quarterback Dylan Thompson, a longtime friend of Lattimore, delivered the invocation at the event.
Smith told a life story that included a childhood in an Atlanta housing project, the traumatic death of her grandmother, teen pregnancy, two marriages that ended in divorce, brief homelessness during Lattimore’s childhood years and a four-year-old marriage to Vernon Smith that has increased her family to nine, including herself, Smith, their children and two more taken in from other family members.
“What has always driven me is a desire for better, better for my children,” she told the crowd.
Smith called it “very scary” to share such personal details in front of friends and strangers.
“I think God wanted me to do it, and that’s why I was able to do it,” she said.
Lattimore, South Carolina’s all-time leader in touchdowns with 41 and the 2010 national freshman of the year in college football, will travel to San Francisco on Friday for rookie minicamp.
“It really hasn’t even hit me yet, the realization that I am in the NFL,” he said. “I still feel like I am in college but once I get there I feel like it’ll hit me. It’s just a blessing to even be in this position. I am going to take advantage of it right when I get out there.”
He will be able to run and catches passes but still has not been medically cleared to move side-to-side on his reconstructed knee, he said, and he still doesn’t know if he will play during the 2013 NFL season.
“It could go either way,” he said. “I could sit out a few weeks or I could redshirt. I am good with anything. It really doesn’t matter. I just feel like whatever is best for me is what I will do.”
Lattimore kept track of April’s draft from Atlanta and was at a Benihana restaurant when the 49ers called to tell him they had drafted him.
“I had no clue who it was,” he said. “I was on my toes all day, anxious, ready to see what was going to happen.”
Smith compared the three days of the draft to “giving birth.”
“Those pains of waiting, (but) when it happened it was like nothing else even mattered, didn’t even feel anything afterward,” she said.
The family’s last two years have been stressful, Smith said. During that time, Lattimore suffered season-ending injuries to both knees, including a devastating injury to his right knee that ended his South Carolina career on Oct. 27 in Williams-Brice Stadium.
“It’s something I wouldn’t wish on anyone,” she said, “but I am happy that he was able to get through it and be the person that he is. That adversity that he has been through has built nothing but character.”
She has no reservations, she said, about sending her son to another coast to continue his football career.
“Just like when he came here to be with Coach (Steve) Spurrier, I had a feeling about it,” Smith said, “and I have a real good feeling about San Francisco. I am at peace with it because I know that he is going to a good place and that is enough for me.”