Rich's Blog: My encounter with Marcus Lattimore

I was supposed to be at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Thanks to a power outage at Darlington High School, the top ranked Hartsville Red Foxes were on the ropes and played the second half on Saturday against the Falcons. I'm glad I wasn't in Columbia. I got to watch a thrilling come from behind victory for Hartsville and didn't get to see up close the horrific injury to Marcus Lattimore.

In 1985 I remember watching Monday Night Football and rooting like heck for the Giants defense to get after Joe Theismann. When Lawrence Taylor did just that, I'll never forget him popping up and waving frantically for the trainers to get to the field. Theismann's leg was broken and the video replays made everyone cringe. For the first time in my life, sports was put in its proper perspective. I remember feeling so bad for a guy that I was begging to throw an interception just a few minutes earlier.

When the chilling image of Marcus Lattimore's knee out of its socket was shown throughout the day on Saturday, it brought back memories of Theismann's broken leg and Willis McGahee's dislocated knee in the 2002 national championship game. I was expecting all of the talk to be about how Lattimore's loss was going to effect the Gamecocks prospects for the rest of 2012 and how the certain first round NFL draft pick may lose millions due to his injury. But instead, people across the country talked about the character and humbleness of Lattimore and the genuine remorse that such a great football player and even better person has been dealt an unfair fate.

Kirk Herbstreit @KirkHerbstreit

"One if most devastating hits I've ever seen.. So sad...Great player and better person!! Thoughts and prayers for 21..."

David Pollack @davidpollack47

"I never heard Marcus Lattimore talk about himself over the last 3 years. Unselfish & as humble as a kid as I have been around."

When it comes to Marcus Lattimore the football player, television doesn't do him justice. From the sideliens, you can really see him absorb contact and show the rare combination of power and speed. His ability to get those extra yards and fight for every inch do not look sexy in the boxscore. I marvel more at his ability to gain six yards when he should have been stopped behind the line than the long touchdown runs. But like Herbstreit and Pollock said, Lattimore's character off the field surpass his elite status on the gridiron. I witnessed it firsthand.

In December of 2009, Marcus Lattimore was the top recruit in America and with his season over, the recruiting madness was reaching its peak level. I was the emcee of the South Carolina Mr. Football ceremony at Myrtle Beach High's Auditorium. As part of a statewide television special, I sat down with Marcus after he won Mr. Football on the stage. For ten minutes, I spoke with him about the recruiting process, the end of his high school career and what it felt like to be not only the best player in the state, but one of the best high school football players in all of America. I was blown away by his maturity and his selfnessness. I got in my car to hustle back to the television station thinking that whatever college was fortunate enough to get him was going to benefit so much more than simple on the field production.

When I got back to the station, I popped in the tape anxious to see what small excerpt I would run on the news that night and tease the sitdown interview that would air on Sunday across the state. But there was a big problem: the tape was clogged and the interview was not there. The panic attack set in. The North South/Mr. Football special that was about to be showcased across the entire state was now missing Mr. Football. I was able to get Byrnes head coach Chris Miller's phone number and hoped that someway, somehow I could try and find Marcus and get something to remedy this technological snafu. I get a phone call to tell me to head to a hotel in Myrtle Beach and Marcus would meet me in the lobby.

In the middle of a busy lobby, Lattimore emerged from the elevator and greeted me. I went into full apology mode and mixed in the embarassment of the tape not working along with the hope that the eight minute interview we did 45 minutes earlier was going to happen again. Here's a kid who's getting text messages and voice mails around the clock from coaches, recruiting websites and every other kind of media. He had a look on this face that said "What are you worrying about?". He looked me right in the eye and with a small grin on his face said "Don't worry about it. I bet you this interview will be even better".

He sat right down and answered every question again like a pro. I've been fortunate enough to see elite athletes in many different sports. Seeing the way Marcus Lattimore conducted himself was one of those goose bump moments when you realize that you just interacted with someone special.

He's got a long road to go in recovery and it's not just Gamecock Nation that will be behind him as he goes through a lengthy rehabilitation. He has every right to be mad at the world and take a "why me?" attitiude especially after his 2011 season was cut short by a knee injury. But that's not Marcus Lattimore. As I watched Willis McGahee get in the end zone on Sunday night football in the NFL 10 years after his terrible injury, my guess that Marcus Lattimore is going to get that small grin back on his face and his character will grow even stronger.

I haven't had a one on one encounter with Marcus since that night in 2009 and he wouldn't be able to pick me out of a lineup. But if our paths ever cross again, I'd like to say to him just one thing.

Don't worry about it. I bet the next comeback will be even better.