Two miserable days haunt Marcus Lattimore. They fuel and inspire him.
When he’s in the gym, each one flickers in his mind. When he’s on a run, they spring up again.
And just before he takes his first carry out of South Carolina’s backfield this fall, you can bet those days will be mentally taunting him as defenders are barreling down on him.
South Carolina’s rising sophomore running back came into 2010 with a mountain of hype and left as the SEC Freshman of the Year. He also left with the sting of consecutive losses to end his freshman campaign.
So as the bruising rusher, who registered nearly 1,200 yards on the ground and had 17 touchdowns last fall, prepared for the spring, he did so with a newfound desire to push himself and his team harder.
“The neat thing about him is that after the great season he had as a freshman, he came back with the attitude of, ‘Hey, we lost our last two games -- the SEC championship and the Chick-fil-A Bowl,’” South Carolina strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald said. “He came back with a chip on his shoulder, even before the offseason, and everybody fed off that. There wasn’t any complacency; it was actually a hunger and more than he ever had.
“It’s pretty neat because you can tell a kid to do that, but I never had to say a word. He just came in with a chip on his shoulder this offseason, ready to prove that he’s got a lot more to do here.”
It could have been easy for Lattimore to feel content with his first year. Few would blame him.
He started the second game of the season, rushing for 182 yards and two touchdowns. A month later he forced his way to 184 yards against Tennessee and then rounded out SEC play in the regular season by putting a whooping on Florida’s entire defense with a 40-carry, 212-yard performance with three touchdowns.
Many would feel there was little to change after that debut.
But not Lattimore.
He started by bulking up from 217 pounds to 231 this spring. Most of the weight for his lifts increased and he’s consistently kept his 40 times in the low 4.5s.
He’s got the body to make those training gains possible, but he’s got the attitude to keep going and to keep building.
“Now, the hunger is there,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s something you can’t teach, that’s something that has to be inside the guy. It was very neat and very pleasant to see that as a coach that this guy is even hungrier than he was going into his first offseason.”
Lattimore’s coaches and teammates are hoping that hunger bleeds over into the season. Especially a season that will see the Gamecocks relying on him even more.
Troubled quarterback Stephen Garcia was indefinitely suspended from the team this spring, leaving sophomore Connor Shaw to run the show. While coach Steve Spurrier hasn’t officially welcomed Garcia back, signs are pointing to his return.
But on the chance Shaw is indeed the starter, Lattimore should see his carries go up and the attention from opposing defenses will increase as well.
However, Fitzgerald said neither he nor Lattimore are worried about that. The youngster desires the challenge and welcomes the notoriety.
“He embraces that,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s actually made him better.
“He wants to be a major part of this team.”