Associated Press Photo
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Sports Network) - Marcus Lattimore is one of college football's "good guys," so the devastating leg injury he suffered this past weekend at Tennessee has been met with profound sadness by not only the Gamecock faithful, but the college football community as a whole.
Lattimore arrived on the South Carolina campus with an impressive prep resume, as he was a homegrown product who rushed for 6,375 yards and 104 touchdowns in his high school career, earning Parade All-American honors as a senior.
He made an immediate impact with the Gamecocks as a freshman in 2010, setting a freshman school record with 1,197 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns, en route to earning First-Team All-American honors, while being tabbed the National Freshman of the Year.
A Heisman Trophy campaign was certainly a realistic goal heading into his sophomore season a year ago and he responded by rushing for 818 yards and 10 TDs in just seven games. However, a knee injury suffered against Mississippi State cost Lattimore the rest of the season.
Lattimore vowed he would return from that torn ACL for the 2012 season opener and he delivered on that promise, despite the long, exhausting hours of rehab throughout the spring and summer months. The 6-foot, 218-pound junior got off to a strong start against Vanderbilt in the season opener (110 yards, two TDs) and seemed to be getting stronger as the season moved into its second half.
As usual, he was a huge part of the game plan at Tennessee this past weekend, amassing 65 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries before suffering what could be a career-threatening injury in the second quarter.
The play, shown over and over again on media outlets, is tough to watch, as Lattimore's left leg crumbled after taking a low hit on a run, reminiscent of Joe Theismann's "Monday Night Football" leg injury and Willis McGahee's blown- out knee in the 2002 national championship loss to Ohio State in terms of shock value.
The injury was diagnosed as a right knee hyperextension, resulting in further damage to several ligaments. The silver lining for Lattimore is that it is not the same knee he injured in 2011, and there is hope that he can recover and return, despite how it initially looked on the field.
In a testament to Lattimore and the respect he has in the SEC and across the nation, both teams rallied around their fallen comrade as he sought medical attention prior to be taken off the field.
Steve Spurrier was in awe of the show of support for his All-American tailback as he lay on the field.
"I'm not sure if I've quite seen one like that," said Spurrier in regard to the outpouring of sympathy on the field. "Everybody in the SEC and around the country has the utmost respect for Marcus Lattimore, mainly, as a person. We all know he's a great guy. As a person, there's no greater than him that I've ever met. It was touching. The Tennessee guys felt bad about it, too."
Lattimore's season comes to an end, having rushed for 662 yards, with 11 touchdowns.
In three years in Columbia (one full and two partial), Lattimore has carried the ball 555 times for 2,677 yards with a school-record 41 total touchdowns, including 38 rushing (also a school record).
Spurrier could go on forever about Lattimore and what kind of young man he is.
"He's such a good young man. Good things are going to happen for Marcus," said Spurrier said following the Tennessee game last weekend. "I don't know exactly where or how, but good things are going to happen for Marcus Lattimore. He had a heck of a game going, too. A guy came knifing in there. The other guy hit him low. It is a very, very unfortunate thing that happened to Marcus. We'll all pray for him. Hopefully, he'll be back. Maybe he'll be back next year. Maybe it won't be quite as severe as it appeared on the field out there."
At his point, it is known to be a pretty significant injury, but Lattimore's desire to defy the odds and make it back to the gridiron is sure to go a long way in the recovery process, but whether he is able to actually suit up and play the sport he loves again remains to be seen.
Regardless of his football future, Lattimore is the kind of person who is sure to have his fans no matter where his career choices lead him.