Lattimore: "I'll be a Gamecock forever" - - Columbia, South Carolina

Lattimore: "I'll be a Gamecock forever"

Marcus Lattimore speaks to the media on Wednesday afternoon. Marcus Lattimore speaks to the media on Wednesday afternoon.

It's South Carolina 14, Tennessee 7 with just over 8 minutes left in the second quarter. It's a little windy out on the field thanks to a hurricane just off the coast by the name of Sandy.

Quarterback Connor Shaw lines up in a shotgun formation in the backfield near the South Carolina 28-yard-line with running back Marcus Lattimore to his right.

The ball is snapped, and Shaw hands it off to Lattimore, who runs it straight up the gut and through two Tennessee defenders. He's headed for the races. Twenty-six yards and he's home.

It seemed like just another touchdown scored. Just another notch on Lattimore's record.

But fate has an odd way of reminding us that the players that kids call heroes are just human.

It's South Carolina 21, Tennessee 14 with just over 4 minutes left in the second quarter. Shaw and Lattimore are in the backfield again when Shaw hands it off to Lattimore again.

Lattimore cuts to his left, but he's met by two Tennessee defenders and is quickly brought to the ground. We see Lattimore's right leg whip around him in an unnatural way. He's down, and he's definitely in pain.

It's the right knee. Not the one from last year, but still – it's his knee again. Lattimore takes off his helmet and you can see as the shock hits his face.

Four minutes before, he's the king of Williams-Brice Stadium. Four minutes later, he's mortal again.

Doctors will say days later that Lattimore will be done for the season with a knee injury that would require surgery.

And just like that, we have seen the final act of Gamecock running back Marcus Lattimore. No one knew that would be his last touchdown.  

Lattimore's career ended as a Gamecock on Wednesday afternoon during a press conference where he announced his intentions to declare for the 2013 NFL Draft.

"I'm going to forgo my senior season and enter the NFL Draft," said Lattimore. "I feel that's the best decision for me."

It's hard to not be impressed by his statistics despite the fact he was injured for a large chunk of the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He leaves with a school record for 38 rushing touchdowns and a school record for 41 total touchdowns. 

Coach Steve Spurrier credited Lattimore for a good portion of the team's success during the past three seasons.

"His influence and his fingerprints are all over our team," said Spurrier. "He's one of my favorite players not because he's the best running back maybe I've ever coached, but because he's such an unselfish player that wants to do best for the team and he's one of our highly-conditioned athletes."

"He does everything the coaches ask you to do and more. That's the type of player he is."

Spurrier also praised Lattimore for being his best recruiter.

"I like to say I recruited Jadeveon Clowney, but if y'all remember, when I called Jadeveon to come down to the basketball game, you noticed Marcus was sitting right next to him the whole game," said Spurrier.

But when it was time to talk about letting one of his first star recruits go, Spurrier said he agreed with Lattimore that it was time to move on.

 "I 100 percent agree that Marcus should turn pro. He should declare for the draft," said Spurrier. "We had a meeting last week and we all talked about it and I 100 percent understand. He's done so much for the University of South Carolina."

"As all of you know, college football players all get the same scholarship they got 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 years ago, and at some point, when you can really play this game the way Marcus can, you need to be financially rewarded, and he's paid his dues, and he needs to go do that."

But the road to the NFL will likely be long for the running back. Lattimore says he's got at least 12 or 15 months of rehab ahead of him before he can be pro-ready.

Despite that long road, Lattimore is not upset about the injuries or his career at South Carolina.

"I wouldn't change anything that happened these past three years," said Lattimore.

Those injuries, Lattimore says, have also given him the gift of perspective. Lattimore says a visit from back-up quarterback Dylan Thompson following his most recent injury helped him the most.

"We were just talking the whole time, not even talking about my knee. Right before he left, he said, ‘Remember, God doesn't make mistakes.' That really put it into perspective for me, like this happened for a reason," said Lattimore. "After that, I didn't ask ‘Why me' anymore. I was just ready to get the surgery and get to work."

There's plenty of work left unfinished at USC for Lattimore. While he will not return next season, the running back plans to return to the university and complete his degree.

"I love this state, and I'm glad to say I'll be a Gamecock forever," said Lattimore.

It's likely Gamecock fans will remember him forever as well.  

Copyright 2012 WIS. All rights reserved.

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