The 49ers took Marcus Lattimore in the fourth round of the NFL draft. (USA Today Sports)
This must be a miracle, right? What else can it be? Because logic says Marcus Lattimore should not be ready to play football. Logic says he shouldn't have been running the steps at South Carolina's football stadium last month or sprinting up a hill behind San Jose State University as he did last Thursday afternoon.
Not on his knee. Not after that day against Tennessee last October when his right knee essentially exploded on national television. The doctors and trainers who looked at him that afternoon imagined the tangle of torn ligaments to be so severe they said it would be a year before he walked.
Imagine that. The best running back heading into the NFL draft wouldn't even walk for a year. Nine months later he was rumbling up a hill that has become something of a legend among 49ers players.
So what else can this be?
"Yes, it is a miracle," Lattimore said by phone.
Then he repeated himself.
"Yes it is."
He will not practice when the 49ers open their training camp this week. The team has already put him on the physically unable to perform list, where he will remain until the season's sixth week. He does not want this, of course, but he is trying to be understanding. He gets how this must not make sense to any rational person looking at an injury like his.
He realizes waiting is in his best interests and so he said: "I'm cool with it, it gives me more time to make sure I'm really ready when I do practice."
But he can also feel the knee's strength. He senses the power that has returned. He knows he can run and run fast. He knows, too, that he doesn't need to be on the physically unable to perform list. He knows he doesn't need to wait until October to play.
"Physically, I do feel I can practice now," he said.
That he can even utter that statement is remarkable. He is reported to have damaged his ACL, MCL and PCL, making his injury among the most severe of its kind. Even today where quick recoveries from awful injuries are the norm Lattimore's is particularly startling. He simply shouldn't be this far along. Not after what happened last October.
Yet the amazing thing about his knee is how it felt so strong so soon after orthopedist James Andrews fixed it not long after the injury. The year before he had torn the ACL in his left knee – a serious but smaller injury by comparison – and still his right knee was recovering faster. Perhaps much of this had to do with the fact he was rehabilitating with Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, whose knee was reconstructed by Andrews in a January operation. Like Lattimore, Griffin had torn an ACL in his other knee a few years before. He understood the angst of building back from one devastating injury only to suffer another. And also much like Lattimore, RG3 was determined to prove he would return quickly from his injury.
Maybe even more determined than Lattimore – if that was possible.
Griffin brought energy, he brought enthusiasm, he brought an intensity that few other athletes could. If Lattimore was motivated to heal quickly, watching Griffin drove him only more.
"I knew why he has been so successful," said Lattimore who is doing a series of interviews on behalf of the supplement company EAS in part because he believes the company stayed committed to him through his recovery. "I don't think we had to say anything to push each other."
Each watched the other man and knew what he had to do.
At night, they talked, the quarterback who dazzled the NFL last season and the running back who wants so much to do the same this fall. They talked about their previous injuries, about their own, about their surgeries and their recoveries. And even though they were in the gloomiest of predicaments, with shredded knees that had just been restructured, they would not mope, they would not despair.
"There were no down conversations, no negative conversations about our injuries or about anything," Lattimore said. "All our conversations were about what we were doing and what we were going to do tomorrow or the next day."
Then Lattimore laughed.
"I was blessed to have him out there," he said. "I know he helped me a lot."
Then again, it's impossible to know who inspires whom.
There was a moment recently when Lattimore walked into a FedEx store in Columbia, S.C., and a customer approached him. It was man, just a regular guy with a regular job. The man had something he wanted to say. The man said he had moments where he woke up tired and didn't want to get out of bed. The man said there were days he didn't want to go to work.
Then he thought about Lattimore and the injury and the way he was already walking and there was video out of him running the stadium steps at South Carolina, and, well, what could the man do?
Lattimore had become his inspiration.
On the phone, Lattimore went quiet for a moment.
Do you feel like you are becoming an inspiration, he was asked.
Yes, he finally said.
"You're making a difference, that's what it's about," he said. "I can't describe what it's like to have someone come up to me and say something like that guy did. I just appreciate that he did."
Lattimore paused again.
"You know, we as athletes are human, too," he said.
Even when their recovery from debilitating injuries seems anything but.
Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• Robert Griffin III says he's cleared to practice
• Tony Romo nearly in control of Dallas Cowboys' offense
• Report: Broncos linebacker Von Miller facing suspension
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Marcus Lattimore