By KEVIN MELTON
Akia Booker has always considered South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore a role model.
The Byrnes standout wide receiver was a freshman during Lattimore’s senior year, and he still has a deep respect for his former teammate.
“He’s always told us that hard work always pays off and never give up and always fight,” Booker said. “He’s said to always believe in God because with God anything is possible. It’s just the way he leads, even when he went off to college, he always came back home and talked to us or would text me. He would show that making it to the next level doesn’t change who you are as a person.”
Lattimore announced during a news conference Wednesday that he would forego his senior season of eligibility at South Carolina and enter the 2013 NFL draft. The decision was made after the school’s career leader in touchdowns suffered a severe right knee injury on Oct. 27 against Tennessee. The injury was initially considered career-threatening. He also missed much of his sophomore season after suffering a season-ending injury to his left knee against Mississippi State.
Lattimore is also Byrnes’ all-time leading rusher with 6,375 yards.
Booker said his heart broke for Lattimore because of the injuries.
“It was hard for him for a while, so I call him a lot and talk to him because it was real rough,” he said. “Hopefully in the end everything will turn out all great for him.”
Comparisons can be drawn between Booker and Lattimore. Both were selected to the Shrine Bowl and both were Mr. Football finalists. Lattimore went on to win the award in 2009.
Booker will participate in the 76th Annual Shrine Bowl at 1 p.m. Saturday at Gibbs Stadium. He finished the season with 82 catches for 1,549 yards and 18 touchdowns and added 69 carries for 410 yards and eight touchdowns for the Rebels.
Booker said being able to carry on the legacy of Byrnes’ players selected to the all-star game is an honor.
“We like it a lot just to be able to show off our talents and do everything for the Rebel Nation,” Booker said. “I think it will be great. I’m looking forward to see what North Carolina has for us.”
Booker also said he is looking forward to seeing what Lattimore can do in the NFL. He said he’ll always be a fan of his friend.
“I talked to him (Tuesday) night,” Booker said. “He said he’s going to send me tickets to his first home game, so I’m ready to go.”