Marcus Lattimore was not the most prolific running back in South Carolina history. He missed almost a quarter of his career due to injury, and he heads off into an uncertain future in the NFL.
But it’s hard to find a more important Gamecock in the school’s history, and here are five reasons why:
George Rogers’ career will be hard to surpass from an individual perspective. Rogers is the school’s only Heisman Trophy winner, career leader in yards by a huge margin (5,204 yards) and was the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. However, the Gamecocks won 26 games in his four-year career. South Carolina won 30 of the 39 games Lattimore was on its roster.
“Let me tell you where we were three years ago. I had been here five years and as some sportswriter said, I was a pedestrian 35-28 five years in,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “We were hovering around 7-6, 6-6, and we signed Marcus Lattimore. In the last three years we have won 30 games, won the Eastern Division, beat Georgia three, beat Tennessee three, beat Clemson three, Florida two out of three, first 11-win season, first top 10 ever.”
Lattimore’s debut was modest — he rushed for 54 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries against Southern Miss on Sept. 2, 2010. His SEC debut, which came the next week, was anything but. Lattimore carried the ball 37 times for 182 yards and two touchdowns in what would become a pattern against the Bulldogs. He averaged 155.7 yards in three outings against the Bulldogs. When the SEC Eastern Division title was on the line in The Swamp in Gainesville, Fla., on Nov. 13, 2010, Lattimore rushed for 212 yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries to help beat Florida.
A career cut short by injury and early entry into the NFL still was one of the most prolific in school history. Lattimore leaves as the sixth-leading rusher in school history with 2,677 yards in 29 games. He set the school’s career rushing touchdowns (38) and overall touchdowns (41) record despite playing less than three seasons.
For his career, Lattimore averaged 92.3 yards per game. So let’s imagine Lattimore stayed four years and played in every game, which would be 53 if the Gamecocks make a bowl game in 2013. If you extrapolate his numbers over that period, he would have finished with 4,892 yards (second in school history), 1,014 carries (a school record) and an SEC record 69 rushing touchdowns.
Spurrier often lauded Lattimore’s ability and willingness to lure other top recruits to the school. Not only did Lattimore’s mere presence validate the school in the eyes of top-flight prospects, but he also went out of his way to talk to recruits during their visits to the school.
“He’s probably our best recruiter,” Spurrier said. “I’d like to say I recruited Jadeveon Clowney, but if y’all remember, I called (Clowney) up and said come down to the basketball game in January two years ago, you notice Marcus was sitting right next to him the whole game. Any time we get a top recruit in, we say, ‘Get him with Marcus somewhere on campus.’ When he was on campus, I think he told Bruce Ellington, ‘You need to come over and play football with us.’ Bruce listened to him. He didn’t listen to us.”
“Let me tell you why his fingerprints are all over our team,” Spurrier said.
“Marcus, first of all, is one of my favorite players not because he is the best running back maybe I have ever coached, but because he is an unselfish player who wants to do what is best for the team, and he’s one of our highly conditioned athletes. He does everything to be in the best physical shape he can be, and it rubs off on the other guys.
“Not only is he a leader on the field, weight room, conditioning, he goes to class, he does everything the coaches ask you to do and then more.”
Spurrier is hopeful that legacy will live on past Lattimore’s playing days.
“We will refer back, ‘Remember how Marcus used to do this or that?’ ” Spurrier said. “Hopefully, what Marcus has done here will continue and pass on to the other guys.”