Originally written on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 10/22/14
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It might as well have been a horror flick, the kind of graphic torture porn that makes grown men recoil and avert their eyes. No one who saw it will forget it: Marcus Lattimore on a routine run around the left end, South Carolinas right guard pulling to lead the way. Tennessee linebacker Herman Lathers wrapped him up and spun him to the ground, but something wasnt right. The lower half of Lattimores leg spun like a whirligig as if his knee were little more than a universal joint holding nothing in place. Some people reportedly fainted when they saw it in slow motion. More than a few got nauseous. Not since Laurence Taylor broke Joe Theismanns leg, a hit that happened five years before current Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was born but one will ever forget, has a football injury caused so many to yell, "Oh my god, dont show it again!" So it is good news that Lattimore is walking without crutches eight weeks later. And it is not a surprise that the South Carolina junior will reportedly announce on Wednesday that he is putting his name into consideration for the NFL draft, thus ending a college career marked by its brilliance and marred by its brevity. After a breakout freshman season where Lattimore rushed for 1197 yards and was named NCAA Freshman of the Year, Lattimore entered his sophomore campaign as a Heisman frontrunner. Then he tore the ACL in his left knee on October 15 against Mississippi State. But the rehab of injury No.1 seemed successful. Some of the flash was gone, but Lattimore still amassed 662 rushing yards through eight and a half games, and was well on his way to another 100-plus yard outing against Tennessee when the right knee buckled and the college football world gasped. Now, Lattimore can only hope that his career will mirror that of Willis McGahee, who also suffered a seemingly devastating knee injury only to come back and have a productive NFL career. No one, not even Steve Spurrier, can begrudge him taking his chances by turning pro. If anything it is Lattimore who should be disgruntled, not by the injuries themselves, but by a system that wouldnt allow him to market his skills earlier in his career. If, for example, he had announced for the draft after his freshman year when he led the SEC in yards after contact, he most likely would have gone high in the first round, maybe in the first handful of picks overall. Even after his sophomore season and the one knee injury, Lattimore was still a likely first-round pick. But none of that was possible, because the NFL and NCAA collude in an outrageous restraint of trade that would be deemed illegal on its face in any other industry. By saying that a player cannot enter the draft before being out of high school three years, the NCAA can make millions off its "student athletes" while the NFL has free defacto farm teams throughout the country. The only people hurt in the deal are the players who are forbidden from selling their skills in the free market. They must remain, for lack of a better analogy, indentured servants to the NCAA until their three-year apprenticeship is up. During that time, they risk the kinds of injuries that will probably cost Marcus Lattimore millions. He could stay in school and take a medical redshirt next season, coming back in the fall of 2013 in the hopes that his stock will rise. But he could also twist an ankle or bang a shoulder and fall completely off the NFL radar for good. This way, Lattimore can work with NFL doctors to rehab this latest injury. Then he will go the NFL combine in February to meet with scouts and player personnel executives, but he wont be ready to play. March, maybe, and only then to catch a few passes. There is a good chance that Lattimore will be out a full year before he can put on shoulder pads and make another run. Hopefully he can come back as strong the second time as he did the first. And hopefully an NFL owner gives him a decent shot. After three years of adhering to their rules and playing for free, the kid deserves that much.
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