INDIANAPOLIS – The chanting of his name was something Marcus Lattimore had grown accustomed to at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Any person that followed Lattimore’s career knew the chorus would ring down during his final game in a Gamecocks’ uniform, but this was not how the story was supposed to be written.
On Oct. 27, Lattimore laid helpless on the Williams-Brice Stadium turf as a silenced Gamecocks crowd look down upon their fallen leader.
In the second quarter of a 38-35 victory over Tennessee, the junior running back took a hit to his right knee and suffered three torn ligaments, thus ending his season prematurely for a second straight season and putting in question when, or if, his NFL career will begin.
The uncertainty is there of whether or not Lattimore will strap on pads this fall, but his spirit was one of the most upbeat of any player that entered the media area during this weekend’s NFL Combine.
“I think about guys who are less fortunate than me, guys who would kill to be in my shoes, even with the injury,” Lattimore said on Friday afternoon.
“That's what keeps me going, that's what keeps me motivated, knowing that people would kill to be in my shoes right now.”
During his three seasons in Columbia, two of which were marred by knee injuries (a torn ACL in his left knee ended his 2011 campaign in the middle of October), Lattimore dominated SEC defenses with a power running attack that he does not see changing once he gets back on the field.
His running style has been compared to NFL MVP Adrian Peterson and from his first SEC game in a South Carolina uniform, he became the talk of college football.
"I'm going to run the same way I usually do, because that's all I know. I really can't change my game,” Lattimore, who holds the South Carolina school record with 38 touchdowns in just 29 games, said. “I feel like if I change my game, I'll be a different player. I'm just going to go out there with confidence, not thinking about my knee, just go out there and run like I usually do.”
When he will run again is the question on everyone’s mind this week at the combine, where NFL personnel people met with the star running back for nearly four hours.
The discussion was not about Lattimore’s All-American freshman campaign at South Carolina (1,197 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns), or his 204-yard first half against Kentucky in 2010, or his 467 yards rushing in three career games against Georgia.
No, the talk centered on the multiple-inch scar that glared from Lattimore’s right knee, and the one that is far less visible on his 2011 ACL surgery near his left knee.
“They're investing a lot of money into you, so I understand the process and why they have to make sure everything's OK,” Lattimore said with no sign of frustration.
Ever since the injury in late October, NFL players that have experienced similar injuries like Willis McGahee and Frank Gore have reached out to Lattimore to offer their advice.
While their support has been invaluable, Lattimore points to the lesser-known names that have him looking to turn that scar in to merely a blemish on what could be a prolific NFL career.
“I got letters from all across the nation and South America and everywhere. The main thing they relayed to me was they didn't even talk about football, they just talked about what kind of person I was,” he said.
“An elementary school in Kentucky, they got on the field and made the ‘21’ with the whole school full of students, and that really touched me. They say that in the end, it’s not about football, it’s about the person you are, so that touched me.”
The ‘What Ifs’ ate at Lattimore for a mere 24 hours after the injury before the attention turned to the future, and the letters continued to pour in.
“I was thinking about what could have been, what could have happened, but I don't think about that anymore. It happened for a reason. The reason for me to come back inspired a lot of people.”