Dan Wolken, USA Today
MOBILE, Ala. - Fewer than three months after a gruesome knee injury that was initially feared to be career-threatening, former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore said Tuesday he expects to be ready for the start of the 2013 NFL season.
"That's my goal, and it is realistic," Lattimore said.
Lattimore, who is rehabbing at the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in nearby Gulf Breeze, Fla., spent the afternoon watching practice at the Senior Bowl and talking with NFL teams. After the practice, several players - including former Southeastern Conference combatants like Alabama safety Robert Lester - came by to embrace him and offer their support.
But that's nothing new for Lattimore, who saw just how much players and coaches around the country respected him after he tore multiple ligaments and dislocated his right knee on Oct. 27 in the second quarter of a victory over Tennessee. Sympathy poured out for Lattimore not just because the hit was captured on YouTube, but because it came just one year after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. That combination of injuries left one of the most powerful and exciting backs in recent SEC history with an uncertain future just as it seemed it he was a sure thing to make millions in the NFL.
But Lattimore said he never spent time feeling sorry for himself and instead drew inspiration from running backs like Willis McGahee, who had a similar injury but recovered and had a productive pro career.
"I was past that two days after," he said.
"I didn't ask why. I just went to work and I'm going to continue to go to work until I'm back at 100 percent and better than I was. I know it can be done and I will do it."
The good news, Lattimore said, is that he has recovering faster than expected following surgery in early November and is two weeks away from jogging on land. The bad news is he has no clue how the NFL draft process will play out for him without the ability to prove that he can make a full recovery.
"Could be first (round), could be undrafted," he said.
Either way, Lattimore, who ran for 2,677 yards and 38 touchdowns over parts of three seasons, decided to roll the dice on the draft instead of trying to come back for one more year at South Carolina and prove he could play. In the end, it simply wasn't worth risking one more injury.
"I feel like I've done all I can in college and felt like I was the best back in the draft without the injury," Lattimore said.
"I wanted to get a head start on my career."
Any team that drafts Lattimore will, of course, be taking a chance on his health. But somebody of his ability might be worth the risk, and though it's too early to say whether his timetable is overly ambitious, he was walking around without a limp. It's only within the last few weeks, Lattimore said, that returning in 2013 as opposed to 2014 seemed like a strong possibility.
"Dr. (James) Andrews came in to see me he said, 'You're doing remarkable, you're doing everything you can.' His words were, 'You're going to shock the world.'"