When the San Francisco 49ers drafted Marcus Lattimore, it was easy for us to hold a soft celebration before tucking the talented, but injured, running back away into our mental files. There was an assumption -- perhaps in a too nonchalant fashion -- that the South Carolina product would go do his thing for a while and then reappear on our radar as this super talent.
But nothing has come easy for the former Gamecock, as he depicted in a recent story. It hasn't been a nonchalant rehab. Before he even thought about playing football again, he had to worry about his ability to simply walk and lead a comfortable, functional life.
As fans, we often count our proverbial chickens. Of course, we're cognizant of how serious Lattimore's injury was. We're aware of how painstaking the path back via rehabilitation is. But, still, we're quick to make assumptions while the process plays itself out in the background.
"He's the next Frank Gore," we collectively thought on draft day.
No, we didn't necessarily mean it with full seriousness. But we did think it. We did say it. Maybe, most importantly, we did hope it.
Drawing the parallels was easy, even if these two players aren't really from the same mold. A couple of inches in height, a handful of pounds in weight. For any similarity, there are also distinct differences. Both had major knee injuries, though. Both easily could have been done, leaving so much promise unfilled.
To match the second phase of Gore's career path will be challenging, perhaps more so than the first. But the man doesn't lack the drive.
As the clubs' first organized workouts of the off-season commence, Lattimore was at the facility. He's showing that famed work ethic we've about heard from teammates past and present, as well as from the old ball coach, Steve Spurrier. When a coach of that stature speaks up, and the first name that comes to his mind when he thinks work ethic is a player on our team, that builds our hope.
Encouraging, is that the only aches and pains being experienced by the tailback are those of metaphor. His desire to play, to no longer be on the sideline.
He's displaying hunger by recognizing the opportunity that could be opening with word that LaMichael James could be on his way out.
Clearly, this is not a guy who hasn't been paying attention. He knows what his current situation is with the team, and how that could change quickly. He's working hard, getting healthy and learning the playbook. He knows his game will have to be re-tailored, just a bit, to mesh better with his quarterback.
Injury. Work ethic. Resurgence.
Only time will tell us if this is the next Frank Gore. Or, maybe, he'll just be the first Marcus Lattimore.