South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner thought back to the conversation with Marcus Lattimore.
The former Gamecocks football star was a day from leaving San Francisco, where his dream of coming back from the devastating knee injury that ended his University of South Carolina career was coming to an end. He was ready to come back to South Carolina, come back home.
“I said the things you would expect me to say,” Tanner said. “ ‘You’re always a Gamecock. We have a place here for you.’ And when I hung up, I thought to myself: That was very selfish. My point was, to Marcus, you have employment. There’s opportunities to be employed when the time comes.”
In the more than three years since, Lattimore built a well-recognized foundation that worked with young people. He tried his hand at coaching. He got married.
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And now, as Tanner put it, he’s again part of the Gamecocks family he really never left.
Lattimore became South Carolina football’s director of player development for the team’s Life Skills and the Beyond Football program Friday. He’ll be a part of a program for which he starred and left as someone almost revered as a personality as much as a player.
At times Friday, he talked about his own fulfillment, but for the most part, he directed things toward his future with the program.
“It’s going to be amazing, because I’m looking to set these guys up for life after,” Lattimore said.
Lattimore said one of the big things he wants to bring is the perspective learned through his career. As a great high school and college player, he had to quickly come to terms with life as a non-athlete.
“I empathize with every single player in that locker room,” Lattimore said. “It’s a tough grind that these guys go through.”
Lattimore nearly joined the program in early 2016 in the same capacity. NCAA concerns put the brakes on that, and Tanner said the loose explanation for how it went through involved Lattimore’s foundation creating a barrier so he was not working with recruitable athletes.
That was at the start of Will Muschamp’s tenure, and he finally got his man.
“This is a home run for us,” Muschamp said.
Someone raised the question of if this could be a precursor to a role as a coach, and Muschamp said he and Lattimore had discussed it, more in the context of what doors working for the university could open.
But Lattimore didn’t go too far down that road.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that I love the game of football,” Lattimore said. “I’ve been playing it since 7 years old. Right now, this is what God wants me to do, and I’m going to take it, and everything I do in my life, I do at 100 percent.
“Personal, professional development is my assignment right now. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”
As a player, Lattimore rushed for 2,677 yards and had 41 TDs in his career. His football career was cut short by a pair of knee injuries suffered at South Carolina. The San Francisco 49ers drafted him in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft, but he never played. After retiring from football, he returned to USC and completed his degree.
And now, he and his wife are back in the family.
“You recruit great players and say they’re difference-makers,” Tanner said. “He’s a difference-maker off the field.”