May 26, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Marcus Lattimore retired from the NFL without ever having the opportunity to play a single down. Lattimore may be one of the most beloved South Carolina football players of all time, not only for how performed on the field, but for how he carried himself off the field. He is at peace with his football playing career being cut short, and he is ready to move on to the next stage of his life.
"It has been a rocky few years, but I'm happier than I've ever been," Lattimore said. "I think I'm prepared for anything that life throws at me because of what I've been through and everything that I've seen. I've made great connections. I've got a bond with brothers that can never be replaced. I played for an SEC legend in Coach (Steve) Spurrier. This whole university and this whole community have just been amazing. I'm definitely prepared for life."
Two of his three outstanding seasons at South Carolina from 2010-2012 were cut short by devastating knee injuries, and the highly coveted running back slipped to the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft where he was taken by San Francisco. The 49ers gave him the opportunity to continue to rehabilitate for another full year after selecting him. He officially retired last November when his body simply told him that it wasn't going to work.
"It was the simple fact that physically, I couldn't take it anymore," Lattimore said. "It was just painful everywhere. The game is not fun when you're hurt and you can't be 100%. I knew that. I was at peace with it because I knew I had given everything I had. I worked hard every day. I was in the meeting rooms every day. I learned the offense. I knew everything about the 49ers offense. It was just the physical part. I couldn't play at that elite level that was needed in the NFL."
Lattimore said he has no regrets about his decision.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about 'what if' sometimes," Lattimore said. "I worked hard at everything I did, and I think I played the game the right way. At the same time, everything that I've been through has helped other people. I feel like I wouldn't trade that for anything. I don't need millions of dollars to make me happy. Being able to make a kid smile; that does. I have thousands of letters from fans all across the country that tell me I'm an inspiration and that the way I handled a situation helped them. That just makes everything I went through worth it. I wouldn't change one thing that happened because it made me a better person too."
His NFL dreams may have ended prematurely, but Lattimore doesn't want you to feel sorry for him.
"Life is great," Lattimore said. "I'm enjoying every moment of it. I'm excited about everything life has to offer. I just want to make a huge impact in the state of South Carolina. I don't know which way I'm going to do that, but this state means a lot to me. I just want to give back to it for the rest of my life."
I loved football in high school, but I didn't realize how much I loved it until I came to play for Coach Spurrier. It was an amazing experience.
Lattimore is back in school finishing his degree thanks to the Carolina Degree Completion Program offered by South Carolina Athletics to student-athletes. He has plans to marry his long-time girlfriend, Miranda Bailey, in December. He also does work for the Marcus Lattimore Foundation, which he started two years ago. The foundation is committed to youth development programs and initiatives which emphasize Christian values, character, life-skills development, education, recreation, and health and wellness. He has found time to create business for himself as well with some football camps all around the southeast and even has one scheduled in Germany. Add in a steady schedule of speaking engagements, and Lattimore is in high demand. While he's not ready to say what his immediate career plans entail, working the football camps for kids has peaked his interest in the possibility of a career in coaching in the future.
"I have given some thought to coaching," Lattimore said. "I'm not sure about college, but I know for sure that high school coaching is an option. I know how much my high school coaches meant to me. My teachers and high school coaches are the biggest influences in my life. Without them, I don't know where I'd be. I want to be that same kind of person for some kid maybe one day."
Lattimore sees his high school football coach at Byrnes High School, Bobby Bentley and his mother, Yolanda Smith, as two of his biggest role models.
"I've known him since I was seven years old," Lattimore said. "We won a bunch of games, but it was the influence he had on my life outside of the game. He was always there. He showed me how to be a man and to play the game the right way. My mom works hard. That's where I get my work ethic from. She raised five kids. I also look up to my step dad and my biological dad. They're all just hard workers."
The relationship with his mother was on full display during his Gamecock career, and after he was carted off the field following what would ultimately be a career-ending injury against Tennessee in 2012, Lattimore told his mom he was sorry for getting hurt.
"I just didn't want to see her go through it again," Lattimore said. "From the concussion I got my freshman year, to my sophomore year with the left knee, and this with my right knee, and both of my grandparents died in between all of that. I was just so sick of seeing her cry, and I said 'I'm sorry.' There were just tragic events that just kept happening."
Always the humble player on the field, Lattimore looked up to NFL running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Frank Gore for how they carried themselves on the field.
"They were the reasons I wore No. 21," Lattimore said. "Those two guys were guys I looked up to in football, and they just handed the ball to the referee after a touchdown, so I figured that was just the way you were supposed to do it. I always give glory to God. I'm not about to showboat when I score a touchdown because God gave me this talent and ability. I've seen a lot of high school guys say the reason they do it is because of me, so I really appreciate that."
Lattimore understands that younger children see him is a role model, and he does not take that lightly.
"The more I go speak at different places and talk to different kids, I feel like my gift is to help shape people through my story because it's helped so many people," Lattimore said. I get so many emails, letters and all kinds of mail where people say I'm an inspiration. They ask if I will talk to their son. It has something to do with shaping and molding young people. That's really my calling - something in that realm. I don't know what my future holds, but God holds my future and I'm just excited to see what happens and I'll trust in his plan because I know it will work out."
Looking back at his South Carolina career, he has fond memories of beating No. 1 Alabama, tremendous success in games against Georgia, as well as the victory in "The Swamp" over Florida, propelling the Gamecocks to their first SEC title game in 2010. The relationships with his teammates and coaches are what he cherishes the most.
"I talk to Coach Spurrier about once per week," Lattimore said. "I always tell people that he made me love football. He loves the game of football so much that it rubbed off on me. I loved football in high school, but I didn't realize how much I loved it until I came to play for Coach Spurrier. It was an amazing experience. It's always fun around Coach Spurrier."
Lattimore is sporting a haircut without the familiar cornrows he donned as a Gamecock, but he said he still gets recognized around campus, and anywhere he travels in South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina. Whether it's a professor, a fellow student or a fan, he's happy to talk or sign an autograph when asked. While there may not be any more touchdowns in his future, he's ready to keep making a difference.
"I'm not a perfect person at all," Lattimore said. "I've made mistakes like everybody else. I'd like to be remembered as a guy who played the game the right way. I'd like to be a role model for other kids. I want to make an impact in the state of South Carolina in some way. I don't know which route that will take me, but I want to make in huge impact in my home state of South Carolina for all of the love that I received here. This is my home, and I plan on being here the rest of my life."
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