Marcus Lattimore stockpiled statistics at the University of South Carolina.
He amassed 2,677 rushing yards and 38 touchdowns through 29 games. Nevertheless, Lattimore was included in another statistic — the 96.3 percent of college football players who never play a down in the National Football League.
Lattimore’s career at USC was curtailed in 2012 by a severe knee injury. The San Francisco 49ers still selected Lattimore in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft. Lattimore remained on the reserve list for two seasons as he trained relentlessly. Yet, the knee injury inhibited him from regaining his world-class speed and strength.
Lattimore was disappointed but not devastated. He had prepared for the decision since 2011, while he was recovering from another knee injury.
“You do a lot of thinking when you’re in the surgery bed, when you can’t walk,” Lattimore said. “I realized this game is not going to last forever. It’s not. I didn’t think it’d be that soon, but I realized I had to have a plan.”
While he recovered from the injury, Lattimore invested more into his life away from football. He poured more effort into his studies and more care into his relationships.
Byrnes’ Marcus Lattimore stiff arms Hillcrest’s A. J. McDaniel. The Byrnes Rebels played host to the Hillcrest Rams Friday night in Duncan.Marcus Lattimore: Where it all began
Since his retirement, Lattimore has served as a community engagement ambassador at USC. He also has volunteered with local youth football organizations, including the Greenville Grizzlies.
“I got to live out half my dream,” Lattimore said, “but I was OK when I retired from the game, because I knew I had a plan.”
Lattimore asserted that athletes shouldn’t wait as long as he did to develop that plan. On Tuesday, his nonprofit organization, the Marcus Lattimore Foundation/DREAMS, hosted a seminar at Wofford College to encourage high school athletes to think beyond the playing field.
More than 300 athletes from 15 Upstate schools were selected to attend the seminar based on their academic standing, discipline and athletic leadership. In addition to Lattimore, guest speakers included former NFL player Langston Moore and former Presbyterian College soccer player Maggie Carruth.
The seminar covered NCAA academic qualifications, college curriculums, professional etiquette, interview techniques, networking and finances.
“There is not anything wrong with wanting to be the best athlete in your field, but it’s not going to last forever,” said Vernon Smith, the foundation’s president and Lattimore’s stepfather.
“This is about just having it in the back of your mind that I need to have some type of plan. I need to have some type of network. I need to use athletics and not let it use me.”
For many young athletes, that next game, next practice or next training session can rule their thoughts. Smith contended that athletes often are allowed to slide to the next season, next grade or next level without realistic counsel.
“The mindset and the culture is D-I or die, NBA or die, NFL or die, MLB or die. It shouldn’t be that. That should be the icing on the cake,” Smith said. “It’s an issue that’s not really being attacked. We feel like we can help solve some of it.”
Dr. David Ridpath, a professor of sports management at Ohio University, is the president-elect of The Drake Group, an organization aimed to uphold the academic integrity of higher education amid the commercialization of college athletics.
According to Ridpath, life skills initiatives like the Lattimore seminar are essential to equipping college athletes to capitalize on the opportunity they have earned.
“We’re bringing in these kids and too often are only concerned about the next four or five years, what they can bring to us, with regards to entertainment and money,” Ridpath said.
“We’re not spending enough time worrying about their education. They may not be academically prepared or may not have the life skills to understand the opportunity in front of them. We can do a lot more on the front end to fix that.”
Coaches can promote eligibility. Guidance counselors can stress core courses. Parents can preach etiquette. Yet, Smith said the messages resonate better when they come from someone like Lattimore.
Someone who overcame adversity preemptively by seizing ownership of his future.
“Seven years ago I was in their shoes,” Lattimore said. “I didn’t have that. I didn’t have NCAA preparation. I didn’t know what SAT or ACT I needed to score. My stepdad helped me. Now, I want to help others.
“If you play sports at a university, you’re held to a higher standard, but that also puts you in a different category for after the game. Use that scholarship, and use all of it. You earned it. You deserved it. It’s worth it.”
Lattimore said while he was running for all those touchdowns he assumed his impact was merely another six points.
“I thought I was just another kid in Duncan, South Carolina,” he said. “After my second injury, kids came up to me crying, telling me, ‘Thank you, you changed my life.’ That’s happened a lot and it really means a lot to me.”
Lattimore realized he had much more of than an impact. He had a mission.
He wanted to ensure that these young athletes stockpile statistics— by contributing to NCAA graduation success rates and athlete employment trends.
“Everybody thinks they’re going pro. There are very low statistics for that,” Lattimore said. “If you put all your eggs in that one basket, you’re going to be very, very disappointed when the game ends for you.”
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