Marcus Lattimore was having a season to remember in 2011 and then he ran into Mississippi State on Oct. 15.
At the time, Lattimore had 818 yards rushing on 163 carries and had rushed for 10 touchdowns. He was among the best in the nation with 116.9 yards per game and was scoring at a 9.4-point-per-game clip. But against the Bulldogs, Lattimore went down with a searing pain in his right knee and the outstanding season —and Heisman hopes — came to an end.
“Our worst fears were realized. Marcus has a torn ligament and a little bit of cartilage damage in there,” Steve Spurrier said the day after the Mississippi State game. “It’s very unfortunate, flukish-type injury. We really think Marcus will be back next year as strong as ever.”
Lattimore is back this season but is he as strong as ever? Spurrier is being cautious in allowing Lattimore to take part in full contact drills, which is understandable. The junior Heisman Trophy candidate only carried the ball five times in Wednesday night’s scrimmage and gained 23 yards. He was running free and easy.
“Marcus made a few runs,” said Spurrier. “There wasn’t a lot of blocking, wasn’t a whole lot of holes in there, but he’s been going against the first defense. I think the first defense played pretty well most of the night.”
But the most important judge of how he feels is the 6-foot, 218-pounder himself.
“When we started doing more agility drills in July during the summer, I was doing it, ” Lattimore said. “I wasn’t thinking about it. I wasn’t thinking about cutting on it at all. It was coming natural again, so I would say around mid-July everything just started feeling like I could do it again.”
But he learned a lesson from that Mississippi State game last season — a season and a career can change in an instant.
“It seems like it happened yesterday. I’ll never forget it. It really changed a lot (of my perspective and approach to everything), but we overcame it. It’s something that I’ll remember forever,” he said. “I knew it was bad. I just had to face that and just go with it. It is what it is. Now nine months later I feel great.”
South Carolina fans were afraid they would not see the same speedy, powerful back they had seen during Lattimore’s first two years. But he says that won’t happen.
“It’s not going to change my style at all. I’m still going to run hard and do what I’ve been doing,” he said. “I have Brandon (Wilds), Kenny (Miles), Shon (Carson), and Mike Davis (so) I don’t have to take more than 30 carries anymore. That’s a good thing.”
Oddly enough, in dealing with his injury, one of the people Lattimore turned to for support was SEC and Heisman Trophy candidate rival Knile Davis of Arkansas, who was going through his own injury problems last year.
“I talked to Knile Davis (of Arkansas), I talked to Jonas Gray at Notre Dame and Ron Powell at Florida. He’s going through his right now. I talked to Roman Harper from the Saints. He told me about his story. They just say the same thing everyone else says. It’s a mind thing. After your nine months are over, you have to get in your mind that you’ll be alright,” Lattimore said.
“Knile is my boy. I’ve been talking to him for about two years now. We just talk about who will have the most touchdowns and most yards. It’s not really a rivalry, we’re just both fighting for that same goal, which is the SEC championship,” Lattimore said.
Whether or not they will say it, the Heisman Trophy is also very much in play for Lattimore and Davis if they return to their pre-injury form.
“I’m not really thinking about any of that,” Lattimore said. “The main goal is to beat Vanderbilt. That’s our goal. We’re going to run the ball of course, and I’ll have a lot of opportunities to get a lot of yards, but we have a lot of running backs who will get a lot of carries this year. I don’t have to carry the ball over 30 times this year, so it’s just exciting.”