COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Marcus Lattimore is confident he'll be ready to play NFL football this fall.
The former South Carolina star tailback has spent the past two months in Pensacola, Fla., rehabbing his right knee which he shredded on Oct. 27 against Tennessee. Lattimore sustained a dislocation and tore several ligaments in the gruesome injury.
Yet, with each weight he lifts and every time he jogs in the pool, Lattimore knows he's getting closer to returning to the football field.
Lattimore had surgery in November. He declared for the NFL draft in December instead of rehabilitating and possibly playing one final season for the Gamecocks. At the time, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said it might take more than a year to recover and return to the field. Lattimore has plunged himself into speeding up that timetable.
He said well-known sports surgeon James Andrews, part of the team who performed the operation, has told him several times he's going to shock the world with his complete comeback.
"That's my goal as long as I stay strong and keep progressing," Lattimore told The Associated Press by phone.
He's worked at the rehab center at the Andrews Institute for Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, gradually improving the strength in his knee. He lifts weights three times a week, jogs lightly in the water and says he walks around as easily as if he turned an ankle instead of severely damaging a knee.
Lattimore had worked his way back from a left knee injury that cost him the final six games of the 2011 season and said he was finally feeling like himself when the Gamecocks faced Tennessee in late October. "I was running loose and feeling strong," he said.
That changed in the second quarter when Lattimore was hit by two defenders, his right leg flopping to the ground.
"I really thought I was dreaming when it happened," Lattimore said. "I took over a thousand hits and I've been hit that way over half the time. It happened for a reason; it made me appreciate everything I do have."
Tennessee's players joined Lattimore's South Carolina teammates at midfield to show support for one of the Southeastern Conference's top players.
There was a rally on campus the Monday after the injury to wish Lattimore well and stars like Miami Heat forward LeBron James, New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow and Hootie and the Blowfish singer Darius Rucker offering support.