I am a college football fan. Last October, I was watching the Tennessee vs. South Carolina game when Marcus Lattimore tore up his knee. This injury will forever stick in my mind. It is still hard for me to view. After the impact to his right knee, Lattimore's leg virtually flopped around and twisted in every direction imaginable. I can still hear the sports broadcaster somberly and repeatedly saying, "oh no ... oh no ... oh no."
If you haven't already seen it, here is the play. Be advised this video is extremely graphic.
It was a devastating injury to the young running back. Lattimore dislocated his knee and tore his anterior cruciate, lateral collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments (ACL, LCL, and PCL). Although Lattimore was initially projected an early draft pick, many now questioned whether or not he would return to football.
With this severe of an injury, it is not uncommon for a person to end up with a pronounced limp. After seeing Lattimore's injury, I wondered how he would perform even the basic duties of a running back. How would he run the football? How would he be able to stick his foot in the ground and cut back across the face of defenders, like he had done before? How would he take a hit? Backs get tackled more than anyone else on the field.
What made this situation heart-breaking is that Lattimore had already suffered a season ending injury in 2011 to his left ACL. After recovering from that injury, Lattimore was broadsided by this second injury in October 2012 to his right knee. But, this injury was far worse.
There are four ligaments that run inside your knee. Each ligament serves the purpose of stability. If a person sustains an injury to one ligament, he has the stability of three other ligaments to support the weak ligament. In Lattimore's case, however, he only had one ligament intact. Lattimore had little to no stability in his knee whatsoever. He had to start from scratch from a rehabilitation perspective. Developing stability and strength in three quarters of the knee means recovery takes longer, a lot longer.
As Lattimore's rehabilitation progresses, these ligaments will get stronger and stronger. Albeit a slower recovery, it is not impossible to make a full recovery. In 2003, Willis McGahee suffered a knee injury that resulted in damage to his ACL, PCL and MCL. Despite his injury, McGahee was drafted and has had a long NFL career. What makes recovery more likely for Lattimore is the fact that McGahee's injury was sustained almost a decade ago. With medical advancements, Lattimore did not have to undergo multiple invasive surgeries. He had only one. Further, medical care, PT and strength training has come so much further in the last ten years.
On top of his medical advantage, Lattimore has shown tremendous fight and determination in his previous injury and many believe he came back stronger. And, although this second injury was far worse than the first, he knew what to expect. Lattimore certainly knew the physical therapy and strength sessions were grueling. He was more prepared to face the long road and had exhibited mental toughness before.
I followed Lattimore after his injury, and I was happy to see Andy Staples of SI.com tweet he was walking without a limp on January 22. Two months later, Lattimore ran drills for representatives of all 32 NFL teams. When he completed the drills, he received an applause from everyone in attendance.
Still, many questioned, even on Niners Nation, whether Lattimore would return. And, although he had made significant progress, none of us could say for sure. Nobody seemed to doubt his skills as a running back. Most had a comprehensive picture of Lattimore's potential in the NFL, but the nature and extent of his injury was the question. Nonetheless, we were all pulling for him.
When the San Francisco 49ers picked Lattimore late in the fourth round, I was thrilled. Others, knowing I had followed Lattimore's injury, tweeted me in excitement as well. As a fan, it is exciting that the 49ers will be a part of his inspirational comeback.
During Harbaugh's post-draft press conference, he noted Lattimore's aggressive approach. However, he made sure to state, "we're going to slow the aggressive physical [approach] down, and make sure that Marcus is going to be 100 percent healthy before he’s out there on the field.... And if he doesn’t play this year, then he doesn’t play this year. I think if anyone can overcome what he’s been through, it’s him. It’s Marcus Lattimore."
No doubt Lattimore has a long way to go to become 100 percent, but he is definitely on his way.