COLUMBIA – Forty-two days have elapsed since Marcus Lattimore sat at a table inside Williams-Brice Stadium and calmly announced to the world that he would forego his final year of eligibility and enter the 2013 NFL Draft.
At the time, few analysts supposed Lattimore, who suffered another devastating knee injury on Oct. 27 and underwent major surgery shortly thereafter, would be ready to play when next season started.
The lengthy list of doubters, though, could quickly dwindle.
Lattimore showed up Tuesday at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., to watch practice, interview with NFL teams, greet former adversaries on the gridiron and hold court by updating his condition.
His outlook was remarkable, to say the least, as Lattimore labeled his goal of being healthy enough to suit up on opening day as “realistic.”
“Dr. (James) Andrews said my progress is nothing short of a miracle,” Lattimore told a large group of reporters following practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. “I shouldn’t even be walking the way I am right now, but I’m way ahead of schedule right now. My knee feels great. I’m about 2-1-2 months out now. I’m right on pace to be ready (by the opener).
“That’s my goal and it is realistic.”
Lattimore’s twice-daily workouts at a training institute operated by Andrews in Gulf Breeze, Fla., outside of Pensacola consist of running in the pool, performing single-lift squats, balance drills and other moderate-level exercises, he said.
He expects to be jogging on land in two weeks.
“It’s the best place to be at if you have a knee injury,” Lattimore said.
Getting back onto the football field by the start of next season turned into a legitimate goal about two weeks ago, Lattimore said.
“Dr. Andrews came in and said, ‘You’re doing remarkable, you’re doing everything you can,’” Lattimore said. His words were, ‘You’re going to shock the world.’ That’s what Dr. Andrews said.”
The NFL regular season usually begins the weekend after Labor Day, pinpointing Sept. 8 as the projected opener for most clubs.
Lattimore’s legendary work ethic has been on display since he arrived at Andrews’ training facility last month.
“Right now, I’m just rehabbing from my ACL. I just went to work and I’m going to continue to go to work until I’m back at 100 percent and better than I was,” Lattimore said. “I’m getting my calf muscle stronger, my quad and my hamstring stronger. The main thing is just getting ready to run right now. That’s my main goal, getting ready to run in two weeks. It will look easy. I’m going to make it look easy.”
The spectacular success enjoyed by Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson this past season less than a year after ACL reconstruction has been a source of inspiration and motivation for Lattimore.
Peterson, who underwent major knee surgery in December 2011, rushed for 2,097 yards during the regular season, and the comebacks of Willis McGahee and Frank Gore from grave injuries are well known to Lattimore as well.
Lattimore has sought out the advice of McGahee as he prepares for the draft.
“I know it can be done,” Lattimore said. “And I will do it. Willis McGahee told me I couldn’t feel sorry for myself. I had to get to work. He’s a great guy and he came back from it.”
While the physical demands upon his body are strenuous as he continues his rehab and works towards his anticipated return to football, Lattimore has discovered the mental side is more challenging.
“I feel like 80 percent of it is mental,” Lattimore said. “I feel like I will be better mentally when I get back to 100 percent (physically). If you don’t do your rehab, if you keep asking ‘Why me?,’ your knee reacts to that. You have to stay positive, or you’re not going to come back.”
Ever since the horrific injury, the most asked question is when (and if) Lattimore will get drafted in late April. Is there a team out there willing to risk a second- or third-round pick on USC’s all-time touchdowns leader? Perhaps.
Lattimore said that he has spoken with Jacksonville, Cincinnati and Kansas City, but nobody has given him any assurances as far as selecting him in the draft. So, the next three months will surely be filled with anxious moments as the draft eases closer.
For his part, Lattimore is taking nothing for granted.
“I have no clue, to tell you the truth,” Lattimore said when asked where he thought he would get picked. “Could be first, could be undrafted. Could be seventh round, sixth round. I have no clue right now. If it happens, I’ll be ready. I know what I can do on the field. I can catch. I can run. I can block. I can do it all. There’s no doubt I’ll be a starter. I feel like I was the best back in the draft (before the injury). I wanted to get a head start on my career in the NFL.”
Lattimore averaged 92.3 rushing yards in 29 career games for USC, totaling 2,677 yards and a school-record 38 rushing touchdowns, 41 scores in all.
“I had a great time at South Carolina,” Lattimore said. “It was one of the best experiences of my life. I felt like I had done all I could in college. Now it’s time to turn my dream into a reality and be a NFL player.
“With the faith I have in Jesus Christ, there’s no way I can give up hope. I know I will come back better.”