HOOVER, Ala. -- Three of Marcus Lattimore's South Carolina Gamecocks teammates will be here Tuesday when the SEC's three-day media bonanza -- 1,115 credentialed members strong! -- begins inside the Wynfrey Hotel.
It's a shame Lattimore will not be present, since he's probably the best player on his team -- and since he has a story to share. The running back was at the event a year ago, on the theory that he was about to break out, as a leader and runner, in his sophomore season.
Lattimore was 818 yards and 10 touchdowns into that potential breakout year when a blocker flew into the back of his left knee, blowing out his ACL. The sideline scene was one of the more jarring of the season, trainers and family members huddling around Lattimore on a training table, praying and weeping. He was done for the year; no real confirmation was needed after seeing that image.
Lattimore is a dynamically inspirational character in a lot of ways. Since he was in high school, he has, at the request of kids and families in his Spartanburg-area community, appeared at birthday parties. (Like a clown, without the suit. And creepiness.) He has spoken to youth and church groups. A couple or two has even asked if Marcus will walk the bride down the aisle. (He has declined that each time.)
So, while Gamecocks fans were upset by Lattimore losing half a season, they were left fairly certain how he would bounce back from the devastating injury. When a couple of South Carolina's coaches were asked last week about Lattimore's progress, they wore approving expressions on their faces, said he was fine and quickly moved on to other areas they perceive as more legitimate concerns.
Lattimore, cleared to resume workouts back in April, is on track to participate in preseason camp and be a full go for the Aug. 30 opener in Nashville against the Vanderbilt Commodores. He'll likely be voted this week the SEC's first-team all-conference back, which is just one of the reasons he tops our list of comeback player candidates for the 2012 season.
To read the rest of Travis Haney's blog on Marcus Lattimore and four other candidates to be the nation's comeback player of the year, you must be an ESPN Insider.