Marcus Lattimore is at peace.
After thinking, talking with his family and praying, the second-year NFL rookie decided to quit chasing his dream of professional football Wednesday. Lattimore announced his retirement through a statement from the San Francisco 49ers.
“I’ve come to the realization that I can’t play this anymore, and I’m fine with that,” Lattimore told The State in an exclusive interview. “I put everything I had into it. I’m actually really excited about this next step.”
Nine days past the two-year anniversary of his second knee injury while playing at South Carolina, Lattimore realized he had done everything he could to come back to the game he loved. There was nothing more he could do to strengthen and rehabilitate his right knee, which suffered three torn ligaments and a dislocated kneecap on the final play of Lattimore’s collegiate career.
But there still was soreness in the knee after he participated in full practices last month, his first two since joining the 49ers, and Lattimore spent a day last week with team brass discussing his thoughts.
“It was just, I lost weight, I was in the best shape of my life, and the demand of football is too much on my knee,” Lattimore said. “That’s just it.”
A fourth-round draft pick, Lattimore has been on the non-football injury list since he arrived, although he did practice with the 49ers in the spring. He went back on the list for this season and was cleared to practice last week, with a plan of practicing for three weeks, then being cleared to play on Nov. 16.
The lingering pain in his knee made him re-think his status. Lattimore could remain on the NFI list for the rest of the season – hoping the soreness in his knee would disappear after more practice – or retire. After much deliberation, Lattimore knew that the knee was never going to respond the way he wanted it to.
What’s next? It’s a return to USC. Lattimore will come back to finish his degree in public health, most likely enrolling for the spring semester. He also will have several opportunities for a paid position with the university, be it in athletics or other departments.
One of the most widely known and respected players in USC history, Lattimore already is an ambassador for the school, not just the football program.
“I told him, he’s got a home back here in Columbia, the University of South Carolina, and he knows that,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “He’s a wonderful young man, and he’s coming back, hopefully soon, and maybe he can add a lot of inspiration to the University of South Carolina like he did when he was a player here.”
USC president Harris Pastides, a former dean of USC’s School of Public Health, also endorsed a future spot for Lattimore.
“He has a big heart,” Pastides said. “Whatever he takes on, he will work hard at it. And he does it the right way. He won’t cut corners. He has a quiet charisma that makes others want to follow him.”
Lattimore confirmed that he has been approached by USC but hasn’t made up his mind on what he will choose.
“I got a few things I want to do, but I’m definitely going to get my degree,” he said. “I don’t know which avenue I’m going to go to.”
As for leaving behind a journey that saw him become one of the most decorated prep players in state history and USC’s career leader in total touchdowns (41) and rushing (38) scores, Lattimore is prepared. At 23-years old, he decided to keep an eye on the next 50 or so.
“It was my choice, a choice I had to make for quality of life later on,” Lattimore said. “What’s more important – making millions while pushing through the pain, or being able to play in the backyard with your kids?”
Staff writer Andy Shain contributed to this report