Marcus Lattimore's injury was devastating to anyone who calls him or herself a fan of college football.
Nobody wants to see that happen to any player, no matter where your allegiances may lie. When the Gamecocks running back went down with an gruesome, stomach-churning knee injury in Saturday's 38-35 win over Tennessee, it was hard for anyone to watch.
But the way South Carolina is handling the aftermath of the injury is 100 percent spot-on.
Anyone who saw Lattimore go down on Saturday knows it's going to be a long road to recovery for the running back. He suffered a dislocated right knee and "significant ligament damage requiring surgery and maybe needing more than a year of rehabilitation," according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com.
But there are two things that Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks are refusing to do. The first is that they're refusing to let this injury to their leading rusher define the rest of their season. They're refusing to let this injury put their chances of success in jeopardy. They are 7-2 and resting comfortably in third place in the SEC East, and they plan to keep it that way.
The second is that they refuse to acknowledge the possibility that Lattimore's football career is over. That's what all the rallies and the positive mantras are for: to keep the players, the fans and possibly even Lattimore himself believing that he will be back in a Gamecocks uniform sooner or later, even if it takes until 2014.
The Gamecocks held a rally on Monday in Lattimore's honor, which drew over 1,000 people and was meant to wish him luck and a happy 21st birthday. At the rally, Spurrier made sure to make it exceedingly clear that the celebration wasn't meant as a goodbye to Lattimore, who rushed for 662 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012.
Spurrier told the crowd:
This is not a memorial service. This is a happy birthday to Marcus and an appreciation for everything he's done and is going to continue to do for South Carolina. … The message he gave me was, "I'll be back." So he's coming back.
The big question is, how long will it take?
Lattimore already has one serious knee injury in his past, which could make things more complicated: He tore ligaments in his left knee last season and missed six games. Obviously, recovering from that injury didn't impede his success in any way in the first nine games of 2012—that's the good news. We know he can bounce back.
The bad news, clearly, is that this injury is far worse and is going to require far more rehabilitation—and, at just 21, Lattimore has already suffered devastating injuries to both knees. By the time Lattimore gets back on the football field, he is likely to have missed nearly two years.
According to USA Today, Lattimore will be reevaluated later in the week, but Spurrier is exceedingly optimistic that his star running back will return to the field, even though the consensus is that it won't be until 2014.
But that's better than nothing, and most likely, it's better than most people expected after watching Lattimore take that ugly hit on Saturday.
We know Lattimore is more than capable of bouncing back from a bad injury. He has the right mindset and the requisite motivation. All he needs is time.