Marcus Lattimore turns 21 today, but instead of focusing on a celebration he is staring down rehabilitation. The junior tailback suffered a major knee injury on Saturday late in the second quarter against Tennessee.
What looked like a potential career-ending injury at first glance may turn into one of the best comeback stories in football. Lattimore will have the benefit of following the lead of two other NFL backs on his way back to the field.
Surgery and a ton of rehab await the young runner, but the payoff is worth the effort. Just look at what Willis McGahee and Adrian Peterson have accomplished after equally serious injuries.
The McGahee Injury
Willis McGahee was a coveted running back at Miami (Fl.) during the 2002 football season. After mounting an All-American season, McGahee was expected to head to the NFL as a first-round draft pick in 2003. When facing Ohio State in the national title game he faced a similar injury to Lattimore’s.
After catching a screen pass from Ken Dorsey, McGahee was struck in the knee by Buckeyes safety Will Allen, which hyper-extended his knee and tore his ACL, MCL and PCL. The injury looked devastating and career-ending.
Instead, McGahee was intent on returning to the game despite facing numerous surgeries and rehab. McGahee was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the 2003 draft despite the injury, and a year later McGahee returned to the game.
Upon return, McGahee ran for at least 990 yards in three consecutive seasons for the Bills. He has since taken his talents to Baltimore and now Denver, accumulating four seasons with over 1,000 rushing yards and scoring 63 rushing touchdowns in his career.
The Peterson Injury
Adrian Peterson has been plagued with injuries since his freshman season at Oklahoma. Peterson was the best back in the country for three consecutive seasons as a Sooner, finishing his freshman year second in the Heisman voting—the highest finish for a freshman player in Heisman history.
After his freshman year he had surgery to repair his shoulder. His sophomore season he was limited by a high ankle sprain. As a junior—his final season at Oklahoma—Peterson broke his collarbone in mid-October when diving for a touchdown against Iowa State.
There was a lot of concern heading into the 2007 NFL draft as he had seemingly been plagued with injuries throughout college. Despite his injury-filled past, he was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the first round.
Since arriving in the NFL, Peterson has still battled nagging injuries, but along the way he mounted four consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. In 2011 he tore his ACL and MCL against Washington on Christmas Eve. The injury ended his season 30 yards shy of a fifth consecutive 1,000 yard rushing season.
So far in 2012, Peterson has accumulated 775 rushing yards and 139 receiving yards after returning from the knee injury.
When looking at the accomplishments of these two NFL backs, it is hard not to expect Lattimore to return to form. A lengthy process awaits, but a return to the game appears to be in the future for the Gamecocks stud running back.
Lattimore still has a redshirt season available and could use that to assist his return to the game. Time is on his side in this scenario.
Willis McGahee and Adrian Peterson have been among the best running backs in the game despite sustaining similar injuries. Their returns should be inspiration for the Gamecocks running back as he pushes forward with his own return to the game.