Flashback: Faith will lift Lattimore after injury

ashain@thestate.comNovember 2, 2012 

This column was written a year ago after USC running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a season-ending ligament tear to his left knee at Mississippi State. He again will look to rely on his faith after another season-ending injury to his right knee on Saturday in the win over Tennessee.

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Marcus Lattimore was asked his favorite Bible verse during a church gathering this summer. He chose Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

“I look at that every day,” he told a crowd at First Baptist Church in Columbia. “It just motivates me.”

It seems faith has become a cornerstone of the Gamecocks’ football season.

Faith that a second-string quarterback can step up after the longtime starter was dismissed from the team.

Faith that the defense will continue to dominate games.

Faith that USC can win with its Heisman hopeful running back lost for the season.

It was fitting that after Lattimore tore a knee ligament on the game-winning drive at Mississippi State, teammates surrounded the sideline training table where he sat, bowed their heads and prayed.

Lattimore has earned respect for his quiet, confident demeanor and leadership. He led the team in offseason weight room workouts and shares his spiritual side with church groups.

The sophomore has been a rational voice during recent turbulent times for the Gamecocks. He’s supported former starting quarterback Stephen Garcia during his troubles (“He’s been through stuff way worse than this, so he’s going to be fine”), while bolstering backup Connor Shaw (“I think the main thing for a quarterback is confidence, and that’s what he has”).

Reaction to Lattimore’s injury was reminiscent of when the USC baseball team lost center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. The team won a second straight national title with its star out for 27 games.

“The baseball team fought through injury problems all year long and found a way to win!!” former USC reliever Bryan Harper tweeted after Lattimore was hurt. “#CarolinaFB you just have #WinAnyway and #Battle!!!”

As he seeks inspiration while recovering, Lattimore does not need to look much further than himself. He has done it before.

Three days after his season ended with a knee injury on his third college carry, freshmen running back Shon Carson bumped into Lattimore.

“We got out of class today, and he’s got his head down,” Lattimore said in September. “I told him he’s got to keep his head up. I just tell him, ‘Let God handle it; it’ll be fine.’ I know he is struggling right now.”

Lattimore’s faith took shape with an incident that almost got him thrown out of high school.

As a junior, he set off a firecracker in school. He was scheduled to visit a college the next day, but school officials called his home.

His family was upset enough that Lattimore threatened to quit playing football. Then his sister, whom he once told a church gathering earned his respect for working so hard, spoke.

“That’s the devil talking,” she said. “He wants you to quit.”

Lattimore’s high school coach visited his house that night and they prayed.

And faith has been in Lattimore’s life since.

That resonates with fans in a state has the nation’s second-highest percentage of residents who believe in God, according to a recent poll.

Most have responded to Lattimore’s injury with grace — suggesting a quiet confidence about the team going forward.

“We will have you in our prayers Marcus,” gocockswyn wrote on GoGamecocks.com. “You have so many friends and fans that are supporting and praying for you to have a full and speedy recovery.”

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