Josh Kendall

South Carolina football not selling NFL ‘pipe dream’ is bold stance

On Friday, South Carolina officials announced various noteworthy things. Among them: Gamecocks legend Marcus Lattimore was joining the football staff as director of player development, head coach Will Muschamp was getting a raise to $4.2 million annually (for starters), the entire existing football coaching staff was receiving raises, and another assistant coach was being hired.

All of that was newsworthy, but none of it was as remarkable as this: “The NFL dream is a pipe dream at best.”

Muschamp said that in helping to explain Lattimore’s new role. Let me repeat that: An SEC football coach and dogged recruiter is, essentially, saying that remarkable high school football players shouldn’t come to college – even in the big, bad SEC – thinking that the next stop is the NFL.

That flies in the face of all the recruiting material that SEC schools, the Gamecocks included, send out on social media and mailers, touting their coaching staffs’ abilities to develop prospects into NFL talent. It’s, frankly, a shocking thing for a major college coach to say.

And it’s amazingly refreshing.

Muschamp pointed out that fewer than 4 percent of college football players will have a four-year-or-longer career in the NFL, in other words, the kind of career that could support a person for a lifetime.

“For our parents to be able to listen to (Lattimore’s) story, and for our players to be able to relate to him on a day-to-day basis and have an understanding outside of Sunday afternoon, is really important,” Muschamp said.

Lattimore was the can’t-miss kid who missed because of two knee injuries. He was a high school All-American who helped spur the turnaround of the Gamecocks football program and was drafted in the fourth round by the San Francisco 49ers but, because of the damage done by his collegiate injuries, never played a professional game.

“His story says it all,” Muschamp said.

Lattimore will be in charge of South Carolina’s Life Skills and Beyond Football programs and has been given full rein by Muschamp to expand on those programs or develop new ones in an effort to help the Gamecocks football players off the football field. Athletics director Ray Tanner said Friday that he regretted that the university had “missed the boat” in providing off-field training for its student-athletes in the early years of his tenure. South Carolina has rectified that recently, he said, and the hiring of Lattimore should advance that within the football program.

“The biggest thing is bringing reality to every kid in that locker room, making sure they know, you have to have something else to do, because it’s not likely (that you will play in the NFL),” Lattimore said.

That was the second-most shocking thing said Friday, right behind Muschamp’s “pipe dream” comment. Here are the two most recognizable faces employed by the football program saying they want to make sure that most of their players understand they won’t make a career out of professional football, and they should be praised for it.

Telling high-profile high school football players that they shouldn’t plan on playing in the NFL is an uphill battle, and understandably so, from the player’s perspective.

“Their whole life, everybody has been telling them how good they are and that they’re going to make it to the NFL. When they are a (high school) senior and have offers from 40 different schools, they feel that,” Lattimore said. “Those guys that make it, they are special, but it doesn’t happen for most of the guys on that roster.”

What Lattimore hopes to do is help the players understand what an amazing opportunity college football affords them in ways that have nothing to do with football.

“I hope it happens for each and every kid in that locker room, but it’s not going to, just changing their perspective and making sure they see the other side of college football and how you can use sports to your advantage,” he said. “You can use that to your advantage.”

That’s not the message that is front-and-center for most SEC football programs, but it should be.

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