COLUMBIA — When Kenny Miles visited Marcus Lattimore in the hospital over the weekend, they didn’t talk about football. Instead, they discussed their families and “everyday life,” Miles said. They have been friends and teammates since 2010, when Lattimore arrived at South Carolina as a prodigious true freshman running back and took most of Miles’ carries.
In 2009, as a redshirt freshman, Miles was USC’s leading running back with 117 carries for 626 yards. In the next two years, he carried 40 and 54 times. Last season, when Lattimore suffered a season-ending left knee injury in the seventh game, Miles had just 18 carries in the first 11 games as he dealt with a wrist injury that sidelined him for four games.
Miles proved a capable replacement in last season’s final two games, carrying 36 times for 138 yards. But when Lattimore returned this season, Miles was again relegated to understudy. He carried 32 times in the first eight games. Then Lattimore crumpled in Saturday’s win over Tennessee with a devastating right knee injury that might sideline him until the 2014 season.
Now, when the Gamecocks play again – next Saturday at home against Arkansas – they will turn to Miles, a fifth-year senior who considered transferring in the offseason so he could be the primary tailback for one year at another school. He returned, of course, and in the final three regular-season games and the bowl game, he will have a prominent role again.
Miles, 22, certainly wouldn’t wish ill on Lattimore. At USC’s rally Monday for Lattimore, Miles spoke at the podium, without preparing his remarks, and said of Lattimore, “I’ve never met somebody greater than him.”
But it hasn’t been easy for Miles, whose USC career is bookended by opportunities to be the Gamecocks’ main tailback.
“It is very eventful, but you wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said of his time at USC. “I don’t like boring. It’s been high times, low times, but all in all, it’s been good times. It’s not a good book if you don’t win at the end. That’s the main thing we’re focusing on.”
USC’s No. 2 tailback, true freshman and highly regarded recruit Mike Davis, is green, having run the ball just 24 times for 157 yards and a touchdown.
Miles has 253 career carries for 1,131 yards and three touchdowns. He also has 38 career catches for 284 yards and one touchdown.
Neither Davis nor Miles can replace Lattimore, one of the best tailbacks in college football. But as the Gamecocks try to win out and equal last season’s program-best 11-2 record, Miles is a worthy backup plan. He is also very different than the player he was as a freshman.
“I’m a little bit more patient when I run,” he said. “I don’t just kind of hit the hole as soon as I see it. I kind of read and study my blocking as best I can. I feel like my receiving game has improved tremendously. I feel like I really worked on my hands over these past two years. I feel like all in all, I’m a much better player than I was when I first stepped on the field.”
Since Lattimore came to USC, Miles has been the Gamecocks’ primary tailback for just two and a half games.
He is a smaller, less powerful back than Lattimore – 5-9 and 193 pounds compared to Lattimore’s 6-0 and 218 pounds. But Miles adopted some of Lattimore’s style during the past three seasons as he watched Lattimore thrive in a spotlight that is now Miles’ again, for the final time.
“He’s a much more patient runner,” Miles said. “He’s a great zone read running back. So I kind of watch film on him to see how he does his reads and how he makes linebackers miss and I try to incorporate that into my game.”