Marcus Lattimore has taken bigger hits, but it’s one he will always remember.
As the seconds ticked down in Thursday’s middle school championship game, the former South Carolina standout and Heathwood Hall middle school head coach was hit in the back of the head by a cooler as players dumped Gatorade on him following the 12-0 victory over Hammond.
The win capped a 5-3 season and a championship season for Lattimore in his first season as head coach on any level.
“I was so excited I didn’t feel it. When the Gatorade hit me, it was good,” said Lattimore, who was on the ground for a few seconds to soak in the victory. “It is more exciting as a coach than it is as a player. You see the hard work they put in during the week. A major gratitude goes toward the parents. I was able to work with some great people more than anything. You take care of the character, they will be dedicated and they were dedicated and wanted that win real bad. I can’t be more proud.”
Lattimore stayed mostly calm throughout the game but let loose with a fist pump in mid-air when Heathwood scored its second touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter. He also made a running leap into the middle of his players in a postgame celebration.
The championship came four years from the day Lattimore played his final snap as a football player. He suffered his second knee injury in a 38-35 win over Tennessee at Williams-Brice Stadium in 2012.
The San Francisco 49ers took Lattimore in the 2013 NFL draft, but he never played and officially retired in November of 2014.
“I have had some rough years leading up to it, but this is great birthday present leading up to that,” Lattimore said. “Won championships on all different levels but this is up there with the best of them.”
Lattimore graduated from USC in May with a degree in public health and was announced as Heathwood’s B-team coach and varsity assistant on that same day. He was expected to take a position, not as a coach, on Will Muschamp’s staff at USC. But the NCAA ruled that it would be an unfair advantage if he continued to do his camps, which he does throughout the state through the Marcus Lattimore Foundation.
USC’s loss was a gain for Heathwood Hall. Lattimore’s hire brought some notoriety and attention to a Highlander football program that has struggled in recent years. The school put up a billboard with Lattimore on it near the school to announce his arrival.
I definitely see coaching in my future. It is a passion of mine. I love the game and being around kids and being able to take them places they couldn’t take themselves.
Heathwood athletic director Jeff Whalen said numbers were up for the B team this season and so was attendance at games. Heathwood fans filled their bleachers at Edens Stadum on Thursday and fans were lined up and down the track behind the Highlanders’ bench.
After the championship game, parents and players lined up to congratulate him and take pictures and selfies with their coach.
“He creates excitement,” Whalen said. “He is such a humble young man and he knows right from wrong. And he is leading young men in more than football. That is the biggest impact I have seen. He is a great leader. I think if he wants to stick on being a coach he will be a tremendous one without a doubt.”
Lattimore definitely wants to stay in coaching but he isn’t sure if it will be at Heathwood or somewhere else. He has already received interest from schools for a variety of positions.
“I definitely see coaching in my future. It is a passion of mine. I love the game and being around kids and being able to take them places they couldn’t take themselves,” Lattimore said. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I am excited for the future.”
Lattimore said he enjoyed teaching the players, some who never played football before, the basics of the game. He said the biggest learning curve was calling plays and putting kids in a position to be successful. He credited assistant coaches Andrew Richardson and Brian White for doing a good job working together in all decisions such as personnel and what plays to call.
Lattimore also took what he learned in high school at Byrnes and at USC under Steve Spurrier. The former USC coach dropped by Heathwood practice on a few occasions this year to help out with the quarterbacks and he also spoke to the team two days before the championship game.
“Coach Spurrier told them to go do your best and have fun playing the game,” Lattimore said. “Coach Spurrier taught me so much and so did so many coaches and I am able to pull it in with these guys. And these kids were a joy to coach and it was so much fun.”