Jan. 23, 2018
By Brad Muller | More Features
At some point, all athletes must hang up their cleats or sneakers and do something else. Former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore knows that as well as anybody, and now his mission is to help prepare the Gamecock football student-athletes for a time when they'll no longer strap on a helmet.
"Most of them have seen my career unfold," Lattimore said. "I empathize with those guys in the locker room. I know what they go through. I know what they're thinking when it's tough. That's a blessing. If they're able to see all of that sooner, then they're able to organize their life a little bit better and have that back-up plan."
Lattimore starred for the Gamecocks from 2010 through 2012, setting the school record for career rushing touchdowns with 38, while ranking sixth in career rushing yards despite two of his last three seasons being cut short due to devastating knee injuries. Although he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers, he was unable to fully recover from the injury suffered against Tennessee in 2012 and never played again. Lattimore was recently named the director of player development for life skills with the South Carolina football program and will head up the Beyond Football program.
"It's everything beyond the game," Lattimore said of Beyond Football. "We focus on the game of life. We want our guys to be prepared because it can be scary leaving the game if you haven't done anything to prepare for that moment. We have incredible resources here at the University of South Carolina."
Lattimore noted that head coach Will Muschamp gave him the directive to "take Beyond football and make it yours."
That led him to break the program down into several key components.
"It's all about professional development, which means tapping in to all of these resources we have here, particularly, our alumni," Lattimore said. "They can mentor and be a sounding board for so many guys who don't make it to the NFL. It's about mentoring and bringing guys back to share their experiences."
Written and verbal communication skills are other key elements that Lattimore wants to instill in the student-athletes.
"These are skills you need to survive," Lattimore said. "How to write an email. How to set up a bank account. What to look for when you buy a car.
"Community service is another area that's important. We want to be proactive in getting into the community because there are so many people who support [student-athletes]. There are so many people that we give hope to. Our presence with that Block C on us wherever we go, it can put a smile on someone's face when we walk into the room. We have the opportunity to impact people in a positive way."
I feel like everything I've been through in my life up to this point led me in this direction.
The Athletics Department already has a robust Life Skills program for all if its student-athletes, headed up by Megan Stoltzfus, and is heavily involved in many of the areas that Lattimore wants the Beyond Football program to focus. This also includes the Athletics Department's Beyond Sports Professional Development and Summer Internship program.
The final component of Lattimore's master plan for Beyond Football is what he calls "finding your identity."
"You have to find yourself outside of sports," Lattimore said. "When you cut those lights off after you've played football, you need to know who you are outside of that. There's a lot more to life and being a human being than football. It's about being a good person. It's about serving others. I just want those guys to realize that."
Almost every college football player has NFL aspirations, and Lattimore certainly wants to see as many as possible fulfill that dream. He also wants them to know that at some point, football will end for everyone, even those who seemed destined for greatness on the gridiron.
"I thought that I was going to make it," Lattimore said. "I would see ACL and shoulder injuries, and I would think that would never happen to me. I'm strong. I'm fast. I work hard, and do the right things. Why would that happen to me? In 2011 against Mississippi State, reality was right at the door.
"I wish I would have listened because people told me. It was always in the back of mind, but I thought it wouldn't happen to me. I wish I would have networked a little bit more in college. That's something I'm really stressing to the guys on the team. Get out there and experience all that campus has to offer because it's an amazing university. It's not their fault, but they can get stuck in the bubble of athletics. That was me, too."
Lattimore has already met with the football student-athletes to share some of his visions for the program and what he wants for them. Even with his football resume, in addition to the tragic way his promising career ended, Lattimore knows he must earn their trust for them to hear his message.
"They don't care how much you know until they know that you love them and care about them," Lattimore said. "I'm making it a point of emphasis to be at every workout, every practice, and every game. I want them to know that they're going to have an outlet."
Speaking from experience, Lattimore also wants the program to focus on the mental health of the student-athletes.
"They're facing so much internally, and they never let it out, except on the football field," Lattimore said. "You only play football a few months out of the year, so you have to have an outlet; somebody to talk to and somebody to hold you accountable. I'm that guy.
"In 2011, I had depression after that first knee injury. In 2012, I had depression after that [injury]. It's been a lot of ups and downs. I had set goals for myself. I wanted to play for 10 years in the NFL. I wanted to be in the Hall of Fame. None of that happened. I was lonely. It was a tough time. If you don't have people around you who are going to lift you up and hold you accountable or give you a foundation, I don't see how you can make it through. It's tough to get through that. You can't do it by yourself."
Lattimore said he couldn't watch pro football for the first year or so after his career ended. He never went back and watched the games in which he was injured, but he takes some comfort in hearing other people tell him where they were when it happened. His faith helped him recover from a mental standpoint, and he looks for the good to come out of a bad situation.
"You grow as a human being, and you try to be the best version of yourself every day," Lattimore said. "That was my vision. I feel like everything I've been through in my life up to this point led me in this direction. With the adversity that I faced, and the experiences I've had, I think it's critical that our guys hear that on a daily basis. It just feels right."
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