COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore rarely
forgets that his success comes from hard work -- and not all of it
is his alone.
Gamecocks center T.J. Johnson said that after games when he
scrolls through his messages, there's always one from Lattimore
thanking him for his effort.
"We're very proud and thankful to have Marcus Lattimore as our
running back," Johnson said.
Expect plenty more "Thank you," texts this season if Lattimore
continues his stellar play for the 12th-ranked Gamecocks (3-0).
Lattimore rushed for 246 yards and scored the team's three
touchdowns in South Carolina's 24-21 victory over Navy last
It was his third 100-yard plus effort this season, earned him the Southeastern Conference's co-offensive player of the week and made him the country's rushing leader with 534 yards. Next up is Vanderbilt (3-0) on Saturday night and the Commodores have Lattimore's full attention.
"I know personally, I've got to get better getting ready for Vandy," he said.
Lattimore has been rock solid for South Carolina since coming to
campus in 2010. Coach Steve Spurrier praised him for his focus and
work habits almost immediately.
He became the school's first 1,000-yard rusher in 10 years. Lattimore set the school record with 19 touchdowns as a freshman last fall during the Gamecocks first SEC Eastern Division title.
"Marcus wants the ball obviously," Spurrier said.
He also wants to handle himself with graciousness and humility
when he's not plowing through defenders. Lattimore regularly speaks
to school children about the importance of education and church
groups on faith.
He's among the most accessible athletes on campus and has a hard time saying no. Last winter, Lattimore was in the bowels of the Colonial Life Arena before a South Carolina basketball game when a fourth-grader preparing with school mates to sing the National Anthem saw him and asked for an autograph.
OK, Lattimore said, as long as the youngster didn't tell his friends where he was. When that grade-schooler spilled the beans, a smiling Lattimore was swarmed and spent the next several minutes obliging the children.
"I think that's a major strength he has," South Carolina coach Jay Graham said.
Another is his durability and strength, something Lattimore worked to improve this offseason. Lattimore added about 15 pounds coming into this fall and the Gamecocks have taken advantage.
He had gashed Georgia for 182 yards as a freshman in 2010 and
was the Bulldogs' prime focus during the rematch two weeks ago.
Still, Lattimore nearly matched his yardage (176) and scored the
touchdown that put the Gamecocks ahead for good in a 45-42 victory.
Then last week when Spurrier wanted to keep Navy's effective option offense off the field, he handed the ball almost exclusively to Lattimore -- quarterback Stephen Garcia was the only other player
credited with a rush last Saturday -- with 37 carries.
To Lattimore, it was just another typical game where he'll do whatever he's asked. He's heard his name connected to the Heisman Trophy, but said he is more concerned with improving.
While people saw a career-best performance against Navy, "I see
300" yards, Lattimore said. "I left a lot of yards out there."
It's the little things, like keeping his body square and using his pads for proper leverage, Lattimore said, that could bring him 3 or 4 addition yards per carry. This Saturday, Lattimore will be the focus of Vanderbilt's defense, first-year coach James Franklin said.
"Marcus Lattiimore, I think, is as good as it gets in terms of a combination of six, speed, vision (and) balance," Franklin said.
"He's an impressive player."
The Commodores defense is fourth in the SEC against the run, giving up fewer than 86 yards a game on the ground last season.
They didn't see Lattimore, who sat out with an ankle injury, in a
21-7 loss to South Carolina last year.
Franklin's not sure his team or anyone can slow Lattimore down.
"Lattimore is going to play well, and they're going to give him the ball enough that he's going to have some statistics," Vanderbilt's coach said.
Lattimore's ready for that, too. He's averaging 29 carries a game and would welcome even more if it meant a South Carolina victory.
Spurrier said he'd like to give Lattimore some rest and let backup Kenny Miles get some carries. But as Lattimore keeps gaining
yards, Spurrier said he and others wonder, `Why in the world are
those guys trying to pass. I'm saying the same thing.
"We end up running, running, running and trying to win the game," Spurrier said.