Matt Coffee turns the page from football

dmclemore@thestate.comMay 17, 2013 

Two South Carolina running backs tore an ACL against Mississippi State on Oct. 15, 2011.

Two Gamecocks walked out of Davis Wade Stadium on crutches and with their knees wrapped up that day in Starkville, Miss.

The recovery and rehab of one of those players - Marcus Lattimore - was closely chronicled.

The other Gamecock who tore an anterior cruciate ligament that day - Matt Coffee - encountered complications as he worked his way back and ended up having to give up football.

So, where has Coffee been the last 19 months?

"Studying," he said ahead of last weekend's USC graduation ceremonies. "That's what I came here for. It's a blessing. I'm glad I stayed and stuck it out to finish up."

Coffee earned a degree in criminal justice and was one of 12 current and former South Carolina football players - 66 athletes from all sports - who graduated during the spring ceremonies.

Staying in Columbia was his only option after the injury, said Coffee, who remained on scholarship as he finished his education.

He tore his right ACL during coverage of a kickoff against Mississippi State, before Lattimore's injury in the same game.

"I was running down and someone just sort of fell into it," he recalled.

Coffee was already familiar with surgery and rehabilitation. He tore the ACL in his left knee in high school. A class of 2009 fullback signee out of Fort Walton Beach (Fla.) High School, he delayed enrollment at USC until January 2010 while he recovered from that injury.

A second knee injury proved more challenging - physically and mentally - including complications with the previous injury in the left knee.

"It was hard being hurt," Coffee said. "It was a rough time going through that second time. I wasn't on schedule. It was complicated."

Coffee moved forward as a full-time student and left football behind. He played in 20 games at South Carolina, recording one tackle on special teams but no offensive statistics.

He continued to work out at Williams-Brice Stadium in the early morning but largely stayed away from football activities. He went to all the Gamecocks' home games in 2012 -- as a fan.

"After I got hurt and I wasn't on the team fully, I didn't want to be around that much," he said, "but I wanted to be around it. I was around it in my own way."

The brother of former San Francisco 49ers running back Glen Coffee, Matt hopes to land a job with a police department or could try to get into football, perhaps as a coach.

"It's sad it ended, but everything happens for a reason," Coffee said. "I wish I could have finished my career here, but things happen. I'm glad I moved past it and I'm here now. It didn't stop me from accomplishing one of my biggest goals of my life."

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