The life of an athlete isn’t all glamorous. South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore can attest to that.
Lattimore saw his season end with a devastating hit in the team’s October 27 game against Tennessee last season, and with it went his hopes of being a first-round draft pick in April.
Lattimore tore his ACL, PCL and LCL. A complete reconstruction of his knee would have to take place before he could even think about jogging again, let alone play football. The running back who was on pace for an exceptional season and a potential first-round selection in the draft was faced with an uphill battle to get back into the game.
Lattimore isn’t there yet, but he’s a lot closer than anyone expected him to be at this point. According to Marc Sessler of NFL.com, Lattimore has made the type of progress that will “shock the world”—at least that’s what Lattimore claims Dr. James Andrews said of his rehab.
He's twice as far along as we ever expected him to be. He's so self motivated. This weight he's put on has been all muscle, which is absolutely impossible in most cases. It remains to be seen if he can play this season.
We've had to slow him down in certain activities because he'd get ahead of us. He's one of the finest young men I've ever had the opportunity to help take care of.
That last part may be the most telling indication of Lattimore’s potential landing spot in the NFL draft. If there's anything as important as talent to NFL general managers, it's character.
Andrews will be accompanying Lattimore at the NFL Scouting Combine this week to answer questions about the running back’s knee (per NFL.com). He’ll no doubt have plenty of good things to say, especially about the character of a player who has worked so hard to recover from such a devastating injury.
It’s hard to question Lattimore’s talent. During his freshman campaign at South Carolina (before two consecutive knee injuries derailed his final two seasons), Lattimore rushed for 1,197 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. He has the speed, power and quickness to be an elite runner at the next level—or at least he did.
Lattimore will work to develop those skills before the 2013 season, when he hopes to take the field again and prove he still has what it takes to play at a high level. He won’t be doing it on the field at the combine, but he has an opportunity to showcase his work ethic and determination for NFL personnel.
He’ll likely interview with talent evaluators from every team in the league in Indianapolis this week. Scouts will want to know how driven he is to return to the game, and they’ll probably get a pretty good answer. Lattimore says he wants to inspire, according to Klemko's article:
I want to be an inspiration. To let people know that with hard work, and when you trust in God, you can come back from anything and do anything.
Lattimore has the drive, intelligence and winning mentality to be a star at the next level. He just needs his body to catch up to his mind. With as hard as he’s been working to rehab from major surgery, it’s only a matter of time before Lattimore is back on the field preparing to play football in 2013.
With such a quick recovery from an injury that typically takes close to a year to fully heal, Lattimore’s draft stock shouldn’t take as big a hit as many anticipated. He won’t be the first back selected in April’s draft, but it’s hard to believe he’ll fall past the third round, which is exactly where Mike Mayock of the NFL Network thinks Lattimore will come off the board.
Lattimore has too much talent to overlook, and he certainly has the mentality to match it. With a couple more months to rehab and interview, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Lattimore still find a home on Day 2 of the draft.