NEWBERRY — Former University of South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore made a name for himself as being a potential first round NFL draft pick.
But after an injury that almost caused him to lose his leg, all of Lattimore’s plans for the NFL changed. Lattimore spoke about this and more as the guest speaker at the YMCA’s annual prayer breakfast on Monday morning.
Growing up without a father figure in his life, Lattimore credits his mom, who raised six children, for teaching him what it means to sacrifice and put others before yourself.
“My mom made it happen every single day. No matter what, she made it happen,” he said. “She provided for us. I had clothes on my back, everything I needed. At a young age, I saw that. That taught me sacrifice and putting people, putting somebody else before myself. It taught me hard work and dedication and I gathered all of those values from my mom.”
Last football season, Lattimore had the opportunity to coach at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School in Columbia, where he was recently named Varsity Head Football Coach.
“The past three seasons, the team I coached hadn’t won a game. When I got out to practice and would talk to the guys, it was all about them. ‘Coach, put me right here,’ ‘I want to play running back,’ ‘I want to play quarterback.’ I let it slide for two games and we lost those two games,” Lattimore said. “I looked them in the eyes and said this is not about you. This is bigger than you, like the name on the back of your jersey or the name on the front of your jersey is what you represent. Selfless players play for the guy’s beside them.”
Lattimore grew up in Duncan, where he regularly went to church and was able to watch guys play football the right way.
Football was the driving force behind everything he did.
“Football was my God,” Lattimore said.
In his sophomore year of high school, Lattimore received his first scholarship offer from The University of South Carolina. From there, he received more than 55 scholarship offers. In his senior year, he became the number one running back in the country.
“From the time I was 7 to 18 years old, I couldn’t have written a better script for my life,” he said. “This is exactly how I planned it. Everything I said I was going to do, I did. Football was that driving force. I was on Honor Roll because football was driving me. That was my force.”
As an 18-year-old freshman at The University of South Carolina, Lattimore didn’t understand the magnitude of what he had accomplished.
“I could have picked any school in the country, but I picked The University of South Carolina,” he said. “It was an opportunity to play, it was a challenge for me and I wanted to run the football.”
Lattimore recalled a defining moment when he was at an elementary school for a speaking engagement where a little girl asked how he balanced football, school and being a Christian. Lattimore said that he gave the little girl an answer, but it wasn’t an authentic answer.
“I gave her an answer that was fabricated. I gave her an answer that I didn’t mean, because I knew who God was, but I didn’t have a relationship with him,” he said. “It looked good whenever I posted on Facebook. I would post a verse every now and then, but He wasn’t part of my life. I didn’t pray to Him. Football was everything to me. But then I decided to live in the light of Eternity after that moment. That Sunday I got saved and gave my life to the Lord. At that moment my values started to change.”
Going into his junior year in 2012, Lattimore’s coach told him that if he played 12 games, then he would be a multi-millionaire and an automatic first round draft pick.
“I got on the phone, called my mom and said after this year you’ll never have to work a day in your life. If I play 12 games, I’ll be an automatic multi-millionaire,” he recalled.
But on Oct. 22, 2012, all of that changed.
“Oct. 22 was just a normal day, everything was going perfect. Second quarter rolls around and all the guys are in the huddle,” he said. “I tell Connor (Shaw) to change the play and that I want to run the ball.
“I get the ball, make a cut and as I’m running a guy hits me directly on my right knee,” he said. “My right knee is on the right side of my right leg. I couldn’t feel my leg, I couldn’t feel my toes. It was as if nothing was there.”
Lattimore was transported to Palmetto Health, where he remembers looking at his mom and continuously apologizing to her. A couple of days after the injury, Lattimore saw endless amounts of support from South Carolina and from people all over the country.
They all shared the same similar message: keep the faith.
“Your purpose is far greater than any materialistic success you reach. You’re purpose is to serve others. Never forget what you represent, and that’s the Kingdom.”
Reach Kelly Duncan at 803-768-3123 ext. 1868 or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.