COLUMBIA — Marcus Lattimore turns 21 years old today, two days after suffering a right knee injury that could sideline him until the 2014 season.
Lattimore, a junior running back and one of the most adored players in South Carolina’s history, remained hospitalized Sunday and received visits from teammates and coaches in the aftermath of the severe injury in Saturday’s win over Tennessee.
Today at 5 p.m., USC fans will help him celebrate his birthday at a gathering on the school’s Horseshoe that will be streamed live to Lattimore. USC president Harris Pastides, coach Steve Spurrier and Lattimore’s teammates will speak at the 30-minute event.
Pastides visited Lattimore on Sunday, one of many well wishes Lattimore has received since his injury, which was to the opposite knee that sustained ligament damage and ended his 2011 season.
LSU coach Les Miles expressed his support for Lattimore on Saturday on his Twitter page: “So sad to see the injury to Marcus Lattimore. Strong kid! We wish him well in recovery.” Basketball star LeBron James tweeted on Sunday: “Feel awful for Marcus Lattimore. Sad. Really hope he recovers fully!! #BigTimePlayer.”
USC announced Sunday that Lattimore “suffered significant impact to the front of his right knee” and that “the ensuing hyperextension of the knee resulted in injury to several ligaments. There were no fractures or additional injuries,” according to team doctor Jeffrey Guy. Earlier Sunday, USC coach Steve Spurrier said Lattimore suffered a knee dislocation.
Lattimore will continue to be evaluated this week, according to USC, and will undergo surgery. The announcement made no mention of ligament tears or when the surgery will occur.
Guy said he didn’t “have much (to add about Lattimore’s injury) besides what is in the press release” and that he “should know more in (the) next couple days.”
Charleston-based orthopedic surgeon David Geier has not examined Lattimore, but is familiar with severe knee injuries to athletes. He said the lack of a fracture is good news, because a fracture around the knee could cause cartilage damage and future arthritis. But damage to multiple ligaments could make it difficult for Lattimore to ever play football at a high level again, Geier said.
“The big concern with a knee dislocation is you end up with a knee that, no matter how hard you work it, is just not at the level of playing football,” Geier said. “The goal of that operation, quite honestly, is to get people walking normally again, without a limp. The success rates of returning to sports aren’t historically very good. It’s just very difficult. I can’t think of many NFL players that have ever played after that.”
Geier noted that Willis McGahee, now in his ninth year in the NFL, is one example of a player who overcame damage to multiple knee ligaments. Spurrier said that based on his conversation with Guy, “there’s been history of guys coming back and playing from this type of knee injury.”
Though USC didn’t specify whether Lattimore tore ligaments, Geier said it is safe to assume they are torn, based on the way Lattimore’s right leg flopped awkwardly after he got hit.
“They can stretch out, but they’re typically an all-or-none phenomenon,” Geier said. “I find it hard to imagine how you would have your knee aligned like that without the ligament being torn.”
Another potential issue for Lattimore is nerve damage, which Geier said occurs in 25 to 40 percent of cases of multiple knee ligament tears. If there is nerve damage, “the chances of getting back after that are really unlikely,” Geier said. “Any orthopedic surgeon would tell you that’s a risk of multiple ligament damage.”
Geier emphasized that nobody can speak definitively at this point about Lattimore’s football future, but he certainly faces a long road back. If Lattimore does return, it might not be until 2014, said Spurrier.
“I hate to say it’s unlikely (that Lattimore will fully recover),” Geier said. “It takes a lot of work. There’s only so much the surgeons and he can do. The rest is going to be a little bit of luck. I hate to say that, but it’s just that kind of injury. There is a decent shot (of returning), but certainly harder than last year. His knee stiffness is a much bigger threat than the surgery last year.”