South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore turned pro this afternoon, as expected, but the most interesting part of the press conference at Williams-Brice Stadium came at the beginning, when USC team doctor Jeffrey Guy thoroughly, yet simply, explained everything that happened with Lattimore’s knee – or, more accurately, didn’t happen.
If you saw Lattimore’s right knee injury Oct. 27 against Tennessee, you know how gruesome it was. But first glances can be deceiving, because so much goes on inside the knee that determines whether someone will play football again after such an injury.
Or, as Guy put it after the press conference, “You can do some pretty fantastic things to your knee without a tremendous amount of things happening to it.”
He mentioned the injury suffered Sunday by Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. Based on the video, it looked awful. Griffin’s right knee got direct contact from a defender, in a fashion similar to Lattimore’s injury. The knee briefly bent the wrong way. But Griffin just suffered a Grade 1 (mild) sprain of his lateral collateral ligament.
Here now, all the things Guy said, explaining why Lattimore was very fortunate to escape his incident without severe damage, and why he should be able to play football again …
“Typically, as a medical staff we don’t give a whole lot of medical information, but Marcus and Marcus’ family both asked as part of our meeting today to give you a little update on how he’s doing, but also a little bit more detail about his surgery. For the most part, if you look at the mechanism of injury, Marcus planted his foot and was hit directly on the front on the inside part of his knee and hyper-extended it. Marcus had a number of his injuries to his knee, something we call multi-ligaments knee injury. Just to give you a little bit of clarification, Marcus injured three of his four ligaments in his knee.
“To be a little bit more specific along the lines of all the things that can happen that we worry about, there were no fractures, so there were no broken bones during his injury. Number two, one of the things that we always do in the hospital as part of our evaluation is (check) whether or not somebody with a multi-ligament knee injury or knee dislocation, whether the blood supply (to the knee) is going to be an issue because of the amount of force that happens through the knee. Marcus’ blood vessels were totally normal, so he’s never had a problem with that.
“Probably the biggest thing that could happen that could affect your future with a knee dislocation is your nerves and the nerve that surrounds around the knee. One of those nerves that we always worry about can actually affect your future and give you permanent paralysis in your lower leg. That’s one of the first things we looked at for Marcus and he never had a problem with that at all. So those are the three big ones that during his first evaluation in the first few days, he never had any problems with those things.
“So Marcus went into the operating room about a week after his incident and again, he tore three ligaments of his four. This is the big thing I want you to understand, because I think it makes a big difference in terms of prognosis for an athlete. There’s two things that can happen when you’re talking about ligaments. You can have a ligament that tears in half and you can have a ligament that actually pulls off the bone. When we looked at Marcus and repaired Marcus’ knee, the really good thing about our repair and fixing his knee is that Marcus only had to have one ligament out of his knee completely reconstructed and that was his ACL. (Guy said Lattimore’s family did not want to reveal the other two ligaments that he tore.)
“That is actually what we did (last year) on his other knee (which also suffered some less-serious MCL damage in addition to the ACL tear, Guy said later). We took a piece of tissue, his patella tendon, from one part of his body and put it in and reconstructed that. The rest of his ligaments were either reattached or supplemented and reattached, too. So that’s actually a great thing.
“Probably one of the biggest things we worry about as orthopedic surgeons is your cartilage and not only the meniscus and the cartilage cushions in your knee, but also the cartilage that coats your knee. That type of cartilage can also have a very big long-term affect and the big thing for Marcus is he had zero problems with his cartilage. He had no cartilage injury at all. His surgery went great. We were all happy with it.
“He’s done absolutely perfect coming down through the last four to five weeks. He’s closing in on six weeks (since the surgery) and has started walking. We’ve spent more time trying to hold him back probably. I gave him a full exam last week and his knee feels great. All his ligaments are doing perfect and he’s perfectly on course for where he’s supposed to be right now. There are no plans whatsoever for Marcus having another surgery at this time. We’re looking forward to him progressing to that point when he can play again.”
Guy emphasized that not all knee ligament injuries are created equal. Willis McGahee also tore multiple ligaments in his knee, but it’s not necessarily the same thing as Lattimore’s injury.
“Even with Willis McGahee, it’s difficult to compare. The same knee dislocation can mean many different definitions. There are so many different components of things you can injure. It’s not just a ligament problem. There are so many different things you can do. You could tear one ligament and injure your nerve and be gone. It’s really an issue of what in total happens.
“Marcus was blessed with the fact that he had a lot of really critical things that could’ve happen to his knee not happen. You look at video and you say, ‘Wow, that’s an amazing thing that happened to the knee and they couldn’t possibly come (back from it).’ But these days, the techniques and the industry these days, we’re able to put things back together and fix things that might not have been fixable 20 years ago.”
And now, some reflections from USC coach Steve Spurrier and Lattimore on Lattimore’s career and future …
“It was fun recruiting him, even though had to attempt that cha-cha slide with (his mom) Yolanda at their house on a snowy, snowy day in January,” Spurrier said. “Very few guys do I remember where I was when he committed. And I remember where I was when Marcus committed. I was in my office with the TV on. Let me tell you where we were three years ago: I had been here five years and, as some sportswriters said, I was a pedestrian 35-28. We were hovering around 7-6, 7-5, 6-6, 8-5. And we signed Marcus Lattimore.”
USC is 30-9 and 17-7 in the SEC with Lattimore on the roster for the past three seasons, compared to 35-28 and 18-22 in Spurrier’s first five seasons. Of course, other players had something to do with that as well.
“He’s probably our best recruiter,” Spurrier said of Lattimore. “I like to say I recruited Jadeveon Clowney, but if y’all remember, when Jadeveon, I called him up and said, ‘Come down to the basketball game in January of two years ago.’ You notice Marcus was sitting right next to him the whole game. Any time we get a top recruit in, we say, ‘Get him with Marcus somewhere on campus.’ Not only Marcus can play, he can recruit, too. That’s for sure.
“The leadership and what he’s done for us is why the University of South Carolina is now not only a football program of significance, but our university is talked about around the country everywhere I go. People know we’re 10-2. People know we’ve had some success. And it really all happened three years ago. It happened when Marcus Lattimore said, ‘I’m coming to the University of South Carolina.’
“I 100 agree that Marcus should turn pro. We had a meeting last week and we all talked about it. I 100 percent understand. He’s done so much for the University of South Carolina. And as all of you know, college football players, they’ve got the same scholarship they got 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 years ago. At some point, when you can really play this game the way Marcus can, you need to be financially rewarded. He’s paid his dues and he’s ready to go do that. Hopefully what Marcus has done here will continue and pass on to the other guys.”
Here are the highlights of what Lattimore said …
“When I decided to come here, (Spurrier) told me, straight-up, ‘We’re going to run the ball.’ And he stuck to his word. This is easily been the best three years of my life. With that being said, I’m going to forgo my senior season and enter the 2013 NFL draft. It was a lot of praying and a lot of discussions with my family. I feel like it’s the best decision for me. I did talk to Willis McGahee. I talked to Frank Gore. They all gave me some advice, but when it all came down to it, it was my decision to forgo my senior season.”
Lattimore thanked many people, including Guy, who he called “one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life and he got my knee fixed back up and got me ready for the (2012) season. I really appreciate that.”
While he is leaving school early, he said, “That is a plan of mine to come back and finish my degree. I really don’t have too much left. I can do that, come back and finish my degree. South Carolina is always going to be my home. I’m willing to come back here when my career is over and do whatever is asked of me, because I love this state and I’m glad to say I’ll be a Gamecock forever.”
Lattimore’s recovery window is 12 to 15 months post-surgery, Guy said.
“It all depends on how hard I want to work and I’m going to work as hard as I can to get back,” Lattimore said. “I’ve just got to work hard and see how I feel. If I feel good, it may be before then.”
He said Gore and McGahee called him.
“It’s a lot of guys that called, but those two guys, they’ve been in a similar situation, especially Willis McGahee (who suffered multiple ligament tears), and his main message was, ‘Go with your instincts. Go with your gut and do what you think is best for you.’ That was both of their main messages.”
Lattimore said he never turned his name in to the NFL advisory committee that gives underclassmen estimates on where they might be drafted. He won’t work out at the combine but he will attend, meet with teams and go through the medical exams.
“I talked to a lot of people. I talked to a lot of guys on the NFL side and people in college. I’ll say probably a month later, I decided it would be best for me to go ahead and enter the 2013 draft.
“I wouldn’t change anything that happened these past three years because it made me a better person, it made me a better man and it’s going to make me a better person in the future, knowing that I can get through anything. I will get through this.”
He reflected on his thoughts immediately after the injury and the support he received.
“Actually, when it happened, I didn’t even feel it, but I knew something was wrong. My knee was dislocated. I just kind of went into shock. After that, a couple days later, I got cards from Hawaii. I got cards from California. Everybody. It’s greatly appreciated, all the outpouring of support I got. That really picked my spirits up.”
He went through this before with his other knee, and while that was less severe, he believes that experience will serve him well.
“Knowing that there are going to be bad days. It won’t be as worse as last year, when I just really didn’t want to do anything or my knee was aching or sore. But now I know exactly what to do. I feel like I’ll be ready.
“(The NFL has) been a dream of mine for about five or six years. I know it’s going to be tough. All the guys I talk to say the level of competition is even, but the guys that put in more work in the film and just on their technique, those are the guys who last the longest, the guys who are smarter. That’s one thing that I’ll be working on.
“There wasn’t a time that I didn’t think (I would play again) because I heard the Robert Edwards story, how he had nerve damage, how he couldn’t move his leg. But he came back from it.”
He has no expectations on where he might get picked or whether he will be ready for the end of the 2013 NFL season.
“I really can’t say (where I hope to get picked) because the NFL doctors and all the guys on their side, they have to examine my knee. I’ll probably have an idea by then, but I really can’t say right now.
“I think (playing by the end of 2013) just depends on how I progress, and that’ll be answered in August or September. No time soon.”
One conversation after his surgery really helped him.
“Dylan Thompson, he came by my house a couple days after it happened. We were just talking the whole time, not even talking about my knee or anything, just talking about whatever. Right before he left, he said, ‘Remember, God doesn’t make mistakes.’ That really put it into perspective for me, like: This happened for a reason. After that, I didn’t ask, ‘Why me?’ anymore. I just was ready to get the surgery and get back to work.”