COLUMBIA, S.C. — San Francisco 49ers running back Marcus Lattimore is confident he can finally contribute on the field this season.
Lattimore has worked through several of San Francisco’s offseason training workouts without problems to his surgically repaired knees. He missed the final six games of his sophomore season in 2011 because of a left knee injury that required surgery. Lattimore tore ligaments in his right knee the next season, also ending his year prematurely and requiring surgery.
He declared for the draft and was selected by the 49ers. He sat out last year recovering and entered this spring eager to get back on the field for the first time since October 2012.
“Everything feels great,” Lattimore said in telephone interview . “I’m not having any problems with my knees.”
Next up for Lattimore is handling contact.
He feels prepared and strong enough to handle hard hits, but acknowledges that he won’t know for certain Lattimore takes a whack at training camp later this summer.
“I’m confident, but you’ve got to go through it and I can’t wait to do that,” he said. “Once that happens, I’ll be good to go.”
Lattimore said he’ll call on his past to deal with that. He was nervous about how his left knee would respond to hits when he returned to the Gamecocks to start the 2012 season. Lattimore was hesitant at first in the opener against Vanderbilt, but his old chops kicked in after a few plays and he ended with 110 yards and two touchdowns in South Carolina’s victory.
Lattimore led the Southeastern Conference in rushing much of that year until his second gruesome injury against Tennessee.
He’s counting on a similar experience once he finally makes his NFL debut during San Francisco’s preseason schedule.
“I know I need to feel a few hits, take the contact and keep on going,” he said. “I can do that.”
This comeback hasn’t been easy. Last month, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said on the team’s website that Lattimore was “working through something” that was not related to his knees and that limited him at rookie minicamp.
Lattimore said he’s felt some soreness from hard workouts as he pushes himself harder than he’s been allowed to the past 20 months.
He said Harbaugh and San Francisco’s front-office are still behind him. He heard from friends and supporters wondering if the 49ers pick of Ohio State runner Carlos Hyde meant Lattimore’s recovery was not going as planned.
Lattimore said he calmed people’s fears about his progress, although he did talk with leadership about his status with Hyde joining a backfield rotation led by starter Frank Gore and including NFL-tested backs in Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James.
“They told me nothing had changed and they believed I can help this team,” Lattimore said.
Lattimore saw a friendly face added to the 49ers in last month’s draft, too, with San Francisco picking South Carolina receiver Bruce Ellington. Lattimore was key in convincing Ellington, a talented high school football player who signed to play basketball at South Carolina, to add football to his routine. The move paid off in a pro career.
“It’s great having him out here and he’s going to be a big time player for us,” Lattimore said.
Lattimore’s busy offseason includes a couple of cross-country trips back to South Carolina, including later this month when he’ll host the First Choice Fit Marcus Lattimore MVP Football Camp at a high school north of the Gamecocks’ campus.
It’s the third such event he’s held this spring.
“I just enjoy working with the kids and teaching them to be healthy,” he said.
Lattimore also likes being the healthiest he has been in his NFL career.