When Ken Griffey, Jr. retired this summer, I confided to a close friend friend that I doubted there would ever be another athlete I looked at the way my entire generation viewed Junior. It's different when you are out of college and older than the guys you follow on the field every Saturday, but Travis Haney's terrific profile of Marcus Lattimore and similar stories are already inspiring a similar type of devotion towards the young Gamecock running back.
My favorite excerpt by far is the story of Lattimore as a freshman:
Lattimore was riding around with Vernon Smith, who would eventually become his stepdad... Out of nowhere, Lattimore spoke up. He had been thinking about football, evidently.
"If I work hard, really hard, do you think I could get a tryout to play at Newberry or Wofford?" Marcus asked Vernon.
If you have ever worked with high school athletes, you recognize how rare it is to find this level of humility. I know kids who will be lucky to get D-II offers who believe they will jump to the NBA after a couple of years at UConn or Kentucky, and they exhibit their delusional arrogance to anyone who will listen. Lattimore was already recognized by peers and coaches as a rare talent, but was only focused on maximizing his ability in the hopes that he could get a 1-AA or D-II scholarship.
After a couple of Palmetto State high school legends flamed out in Columbia over the last decade, with no legacy but their value as cautionary tales, the Gamecocks finally have a homegrown superstar that gets it. I still think I am past the age of idolizing athletes, but it is good to know there are Marcus Lattimores out there for the children of South Carolina.