Making a difference matters to Lattimore

Running back quickly emerging as a leader off the field as well

jkendall@thestate.comMarch 23, 2011 

South Carolina Gamecocks running back Marcus Lattimore (21) makes a catch on a drill during practice, Thursday, March 17, 2011.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

Worrying about what college football players are doing off the field is not new for coaches and support staff.

Marcus Lattimore, at least, gives them something unusual to worry about.

South Carolina's leading rusher is unlikely to appear in a police report during his time in Columbia. Instead, the concern with Lattimore is that his good nature will lead to him being pulled in too many different directions.

"There are a lot of people who say, 'Hey, I want you to be here for this or that,' " running backs coach Jay Graham said. "We try to make sure that we have knowledge of all the stuff that is being done."

Team chaplain Adrian Despres tries to monitor Lattimore's off-field obligations, but even he didn't know that Lattimore visited fellow USC student Mac Dunbar in the hospital earlier this month.

Dunbar, a freshman from Spartanburg, was badly injured last month when he was hit by a car on Assembly Street. Dunbar remains in a coma, according to updates by his family on the website CaringBridge.org.

"I never really knew him, but I knew he was from Spartanburg," said Lattimore, also from the Upstate. "It just shocked me because I know I have seen that face before. I had to go see him. And my dad played with his dad in high school back in the day. My dad told me that, so that really motivated me to go see him.

"I talked to his mom the whole time really because he couldn't talk."

The visit clearly touched the family, which mentioned it on the CaringBridge site.

"Marcus' tender and humble heart has a special way of warming the hearts of all those around him.. oh thank you God for your many blessings!!!," read a letter signed by Dunbar's parents.

Lattimore first began to realize how much impact he could have on others as a senior at Byrnes High School, where he was one of the nation's top high school football players. That season, Lattimore visited a player from rival Dorman High School in the hospital.

"The family was just so grateful for me to come," he said. "They said, 'You just don't know how much it means to him.' It just feels good to me knowing I have that kind of impact."

Lattimore, who is outspoken about his Christian faith, is frequently requested as a speaker at local churches, Despres said.

"He loves it. He can't wait. He reminds me about it," Despres said. "That's the kind of guy he is. He cares about people. For his age, he is very mature. He's mature socially. He's mature physically of course, and he's very mature spiritually."

Lattimore plans to visit Dunbar again later this month, he said.

"I know what I have to do on and off the field, and that's just do the right things and be a leader to my teammates," Lattimore said. "I have a big role this year as a leader, and I am just trying to do the right things so the whole team will do the right things because it's contagious."

Lattimore has been praised by USC strength coach Craig Fitzgerald, who called Lattimore the team's hardest worker in the weight room, and coach Steve Spurrier, who repeatedly has mentioned Lattimore's work in helping the Gamecocks recruit.

Lattimore and two teammates attended a Lexington High School basketball game last month where Shaq Roland, the state's top football prospect for the coming season, was playing.

"Most of the guys his age, they just want their free time, but he takes his time to try to make a difference," Graham said. "He loves being around people, and people like to be around him. That's probably the best thing about Marcus that a lot of people don't know. He's the same way with his teammates too. He's always there for them."

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