COLUMBIA, S.C. – Marcus Lattimore had his right knee dislocated and sustained ligament damage against Tennessee, yet South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier believes the junior could eventually return to football.
Spurrier visited Lattimore on Sunday and said the running back displayed a good attitude about his condition. Spurrier said team doctor Jeffrey Guy was able to put Lattimore's knee back in place soon after he was taken from the field to the hospital.
Guy said in a statement that Lattimore's knee was hyperextended and resulted in injuries to several ligaments. Guy said there were no fractures, broken bones or other injuries and Lattimore's surgically repaired left knee was not affected.
"Marcus has already begun the process of prehabilitation prior to surgery and to his eventual return to football," the statement continued.
Spurrier said the injury was significant, but discounted speculation Lattimore would never play football again. Lattimore has not used a redshirt season so he could take as long as necessary to recover and still return to the Gamecocks for the 2014 season.
"We're optimistic his football days are ahead of him," Spurrier said.
Spurrier hasn't yet talked with Lattimore, who turns 21 on Monday, about his future. Spurrier said recovery will take some time, perhaps more than one offseason.
"He knows what the road ahead is," said Spurrier. "We're all hoping and praying he'll be back."
That didn't seem possible to anyone who watched Lattimore fall or saw the slow-motion replays of the second-quarter hit. Lattimore is wrapped up from behind on a 2-yard run when Vols defensive back Eric Gordon comes in low. Lattimore's right leg sickeningly flops over and slams against the turf.
Trainers immediately surround Lattimore. Eventually, players from both sides come out to comfort Lattimore and surround him as he is lifted into a cart before being taken away by ambulance.
"I saw the look in his eyes when he was on the ground," South Carolina receiver Ace Sanders said. "He was really heartbroken about the injury. We were just trying to keep him strong."
A host of sports figures and other celebrities sent Lattimore support via Twitter, including New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, and Hootie and the Blowfish singer and South Carolina alum Darius Rucker.
"Praying for Marcus Lattimore. Hate to see the best RB in college go down. Keep ya head up my man!" said Dallas runner DeMarco Murray on Twitter.
Spurrier said he's gotten so many messages of support, he believes Lattimore may be the most popular player in South Carolina history.
Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw said the team played for Lattimore in the second half, South Carolina (7-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) holding on for a 38-35 win over Tennessee (3-5, 0-5). The Gamecocks moved up six spots to No. 11 in the latest rankings. They don't play again until Nov. 10 against Arkansas.
University President Harris Pastides visited with Lattimore Sunday and announced a rally would be held in the player's honor on campus Monday.
The Gamecocks had to play without Lattimore the second half of last season, too, after he tore ligaments in his left knee against Mississippi State. South Carolina went 5-1 with their star rusher on the sidelines, an experience Spurrier hopes they can draw on down the stretch this year.
"We'd rather have Marcus on our team, that's for dang sure," Spurrier said. "In life, sometimes you've got to move on with whatever hand you're dealt."
Senior Kenny Miles will be South Carolina's starter with freshman Mike Davis serving as backup.
Lattimore is expected to be re-evaluated this week. He's already made it back once through the gut-wrenching rehab process, returning as one of the SEC's top backs this season. He finishes this year with 662 yards and 10 touchdowns. Lattimore scored on a 28-yard run against Tennessee, adding to his school record of 41 career TDs.
Vols receiver Justin Hunter said Tennessee players wanted to show their respect for Lattimore.
"We felt for him. We knew he came off a knee injury and for this to happen to him is bad," Hunter said. "The whole team just wanted to go out and show support."
Whatever decisions Lattimore makes about his future, he's got Spurrier's blessing.
"We'll just go a day at a time and allow the doctors and Marcus and a lot of prayers do their work," Spurrier said.