Former South Carolina Gamecocks star running back Marcus Lattimore suffered two possibly career-threatening injuries in his college career, but that won't stop him from shining in the NFL.
Whichever team selects Lattimore in the 2013 NFL draft will be getting an incredibly determined, fierce runner and competitor at excellent value.
A season-ending left knee injury in 2011 cut Lattimore's sophomore season short, and then he tore his ACL, LCL and PCL in his right knee this past season against Tennessee. However, he is recovering at an astonishing rate.
Lattimore told USA Today Sports' Robert Klemko the timetable in which he expected to return on Wednesday—which indicates he'll be ready to suit up for Week 1 of the NFL regular season:
I feel like, personally, I need three more months before I put some pads on...I know my body. I know when I'll be ready to play. It takes time I know, but at the beginning of the season, I feel like I should be ready to go
What can't be doubted about Lattimore are his intangibles. Not only is he a smart football player, but he is also clearly willing to put in the work in order to succeed as a professional. When he was on the field and healthy, there is no denying how special Lattimore was to watch in Columbia.
With an extremely physical style that also blended nice speed and quickness, Lattimore had a knack for finding the end zone. He scored 17 touchdowns as a freshman and reached double digits in that category despite the season-shortening knee setbacks.
As radio personality Charlie Bernstein documented earlier in the week, Lattimore told The Dan Patrick Show the teams that have expressed significant interest in him:
Charlie Bernstein @nflcharlie
South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore says on @dpshow #Rams, #Patriots, #Eagles and #49ers are showing him a lot of love.2013-4-23 14:32:56
At 5'10" and 221 pounds, Lattimore should pack on even more weight when he gets back to full strength from his injured knee.
The fact that Dr. James Andrews agrees with Lattimore's timetable makes the ominous situation all the more encouraging. Andrews indicated back in February that Lattimore was already three months ahead of schedule, and that he had generated "impossible" muscle gain since the gruesome injury.
In his appearance on Jon Gruden's QB Camp television program, the resilient Lattimore indicated that adversity introduces a man to himself. If this rehabilitation process is any indication, Lattimore is indeed a man worthy of a rather high NFL draft selection.
Running back is becoming an increasingly dicey position to take a risk on, but in the second or third round, Lattimore isn't as much of a significant risk.
If durability is the biggest issue, it appears that Lattimore is capable of bouncing back from just about any adversity put in his way. Even the NFL personnel that were on hand for his March 27 pro day applauded him during his limited workout, where he displayed shocking progress.
USA Today Sports' official Twitter page highlighted Lattimore's thoughts afterwards:
USA TODAY Sports @USATODAYsports
There is no NFL prospect more inspiring than Marcus Lattimore: http://t.co/rtCaPKuKoQ // http://t.co/lunu555vp82013-3-28 15:00:11
Lattimore may raise red flags over his injury history, but his efforts to get back onto the gridiron have been truly remarkable. It also shows that while he is immensely talented, he hasn't rested on that natural ability to get by. Although he hasn't had much of a choice lately, that type of work ethic and commitment to the game is precisely why he is still drawing interest from several notable franchises.
Someone will take a chance on Lattimore—and be handsomely rewarded with their faith in an uncommonly resilient, inspiring player.