COLUMBIA — Marcus Lattimore feels close to 100 percent and is counting down the days until he can run free and easy for the San Francisco 49ers.
The former South Carolina tailback is back in his home state speaking to church groups and running youth clinics and camps. And through it all, he’s got April 21st circled in red – that’s when the 49ers open workouts and Lattimore has the green light to run as he did in 2012 before the second of two devastating knee injuries during college.
“The left knee, it feels like nothing ever happened,” Lattimore told The Associated Press by phone. “The right knee, it feels great. Both feel balanced. I’ve got my speed and I rarely get any soreness” after workouts.
For Lattimore, that’s major progress after facing questions following his injuries while at South Carolina. He was one of the Southeastern Conference’s rushing leaders in 2011 when he tore ligaments in his right knee in a game at Mississippi State and missed the Gamecocks’ final six games.
After surgery and a furious rehab regimen and saw him return to the practice field a month ahead of schedule, Lattimore was ready for his junior season. That ended in October against Tennessee when he got hit on his left knee, again needing surgery to repair ligament damage.
Lattimore again worked to rehab, not only to get back on the field but to prove to NFL teams he was worth drafting. The 49ers agreed and selected Lattimore in the fourth round last spring and told him not worry about rushing back to play last season.
It wasn’t easy, but Lattimore understood the patient approach would prove fruitful down the road.
“I was just so grateful they believed in what I could do,” Lattimore said.
Lattimore held a youth football clinic in Charleston this past Saturday and has similar sessions planned for Greenville and Columbia the next few months. Lattimore’s kept a high profile in South Carolina since heading to the West Coast as a spokesman for several organizations, including a commercial for the South Carolina Education Lottery about playing responsibly.
These days, he’s promoting South Carolina’s First Choice Fit Adolescent Well Visit campaign, which stresses the importance of proper nutrition, exercise and building a relationship with a primary care physician among adolescent first choice Medicaid plan members statewide.
Lattimore said he learned through his injuries about not cutting corners with your health and believes young people who follow that advice will see the benefits throughout their lives.
Dr. Marion Burton, medical director for the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, says the group couldn’t have a more well-respected representative than Lattimore. Many health professionals and administrators don’t have a way to communicate with adolescents, but “Marcus sure does,” Dr. Burton said.
Lattimore said it wasn’t easy watching from the sidelines while his San Francisco teammates were playing. He bonded the strongest, he says, with other injured players in similar rehab situations. Lattimore says he poured himself into learning coach Jim Harbaugh’s playbook so he’d be as prepared as possible for workouts. “Man, it’s thick,” he joked.
He’s spent time with 49ers running back Frank Gore, who returned from college injury to become a five-time Pro Bowl selection in San Francisco. Lattimore says Gore has provided a strong example of how to handle oneself as a pro.
Lattimore was nervous about moving so far away from home and small-town life, but his family came out frequently and he learned that San Francisco had its positives, too. “This is a very healthy place,” Lattimore says. “People like to eat right and do lots of things to keep fit.”
Lattimore believes for him that’s going full speed so he can contribute to the 49ers quest of getting back to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Baltimore Ravens after the 2012 season. He says he tells himself all the time to remain patient when he’s back in action. “I can’t go out there and be Superman the first day,” he says. “Once I get back in the groove and take a few hits, I’ll be OK.”