This excerpt from “100 Things South Carolina Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” by Josh Kendall is printed with the permission of Triumph Books.
For more information, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/ 100ThingsSouthCarolina
He walked away, gingerly at the time, on Dec. 12, 2012, leaving behind a South Carolina career full of both historic production and unfulfilled potential.
Marcus Lattimore’s Gamecocks career will be remembered less for its highs (National Freshman of the Year honors in 2010 and the school record in touchdowns) and lows (two devastating knee injuries) than for its lasting legacy.
“What he has done for us is the reason the University of South Carolina is not only a football program of significance but that our university is talked about around the country,” coach Steve Spurrier said on the day Lattimore announced his intention to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. “People know we have had some success, and it really all happened three years ago. It happened when Marcus Lattimore said, ‘I’m coming to the University of South Carolina.’”
That happened on Feb. 3, 2010, in Silver Hills Baptist Church in Spartanburg. The 6-foot, 218-pound Lattimore was the state’s Mr. Football and considered one of the nation’s top 10 high school prospects by every major recruiting service. At the time, it wasn’t fashionable for an elite high school player to come to South Carolina, but Lattimore changed that.
“Very few guys do I remember where I was when he committed, and I remember where I was when Marcus committed,” Spurrier said. “I was in my office with the TV on, like probably all you other Gamecocks, and we remember where we were when Marcus said he was going to sign with South Carolina.”
According to Lattimore, he was lured to South Carolina because he wasn’t going to be “the next” anybody — he was going to be the first Marcus.
“They know my skills and know what I can do,” he said at his signing ceremony. “But I was never guaranteed a starting spot, I can tell you that. I think if I can come in and work hard enough, I can be out there the first game.”
Lattimore didn’t start his first game but came off the bench quickly to gain 54 yards on 14 carries against Southern Miss. The next week was his coming-out party, a 182-yard two-touchdown effort that steamrolled Georgia, and Lattimore was off to the races.
He would rush for more than 100 yards in a game 10 more times in his career, and he would finish tied for second in school history in that category. He finished his career with 2,677 yards, which is sixth in school history behind five players who all played four years with the Gamecocks.
Lattimore played in 29 of the 40 games South Carolina played during his three-year career due to major knee injuries that ended his sophomore and junior seasons. The first came in 2011 when he tore the ACL in his left knee against Mississippi State and missed the final six games of the season.
After a ballyhooed return in 2012, Lattimore rushed for 662 yards in nine games before suffering one of the most devastating hits in South Carolina history in a victory over Tennessee — a direct blow that dislocated his right knee and resulted in a tear of three of his four major ligaments, including the ACL.
Volunteers wide receiver Zach Rogers called it “one of the worst injuries I’ve seen in person,” and Lattimore said he thought his football career was over as he was wheeled off the Williams-Brice turf on a medical cart. However, somewhat amazingly, Lattimore suffered no irreversible damage from the injury and still felt ready to leave South Carolina for a shot at an NFL career after three seasons. He was selected by San Francisco in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft.
Lattimore’s impact on the South Carolina football program is not limited to the statistics he posted or the three seasons he played, Spurrier said.
“Let me tell you where we were three years ago. I had been here five years and, as some sportswriter said, I was a pedestrian 35-28 five years in,” Spurrier said. “We were hovering around 7-6, 6-6, and we signed Marcus Lattimore. In the last three years, we have won 30 games, won the Eastern Division, beat Georgia three, beat Tennessee three, beat Clemson three, Florida two out of three, first 11-win season, first top 10 ever.”
Lattimore’s signing helped pave the way for the Gamecocks to sign the next two Mr. Footballs in the state, including defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 prospect in the country. In addition, Spurrier often credited Lattimore’s leadership from the weight room to the locker room as one of the most important factors in South Carolina’s turnaround.
“Marcus, first of all, is one of my favorite players not because he is maybe the best running back I have ever coached, but because he is an unselfish player who wants to do what is best for the team,” Spurrier said. “Not only is he a leader on the field, weight room, (and) conditioning, he (also) goes to class, and he does everything the coaches ask (him) to do and then more.
“Lattimore’s impact at South Carolina will live long past his playing days,” Spurrier added. “We will refer back, ‘Remember how Marcus used to do this or that?’ ” Spurrier said. “Hopefully what Marcus has done here will continue and pass on to the other guys.”