- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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The scene in Columbia, S.C., was one fit for a king.
On Monday, more than 1,000 people gathered to wish South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore a happy 21st birthday and a speedy recovery from the devastating knee injury he suffered against Tennessee this past Saturday. Jerseys sporting Lattimore's No. 21 packed the area in front of the McKissick Museum on South Carolina's historic Horseshoe. Cards were made and balloons were brought, as people sang "Happy Birthday" to support their most cherished star.
Players and coaches around college football are praying for Lattimore, and he received a wealth of support from Twitter, including some well wishes from sports stars like LeBron James and Tim Tebow. Vice President Joe Biden also sent Lattimore some words of encouragement.
Gov. Nikki Haley, who is a Clemson fan, even declared it "Marcus Lattimore Day" in the state of South Carolina.
And even after the horrific scene from Saturday, Lattimore appears to be holding out hope that his football career at South Carolina isn't over.
"The message he gave me was, 'I'll be back,'" South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "So he's coming back."
When is unknown right now, but you better believe that Lattimore will fight like hell to get back as soon as he can. His knee dislocation and the severe ligament damage could cost him the 2013 season, but he'd be able to redshirt that season and return for 2014. We'll likely know more after he undergoes surgery.
But with as dedicated a person and a player Lattimore is, there is strong hope that he'll return to the playing field. He came back in less than a year from his knee injury in 2011, and while this injury is much more severe, it won't stop Lattimore from working even harder from getting back.
Certainly, he can gain some encouragement from Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee, who suffered a gruesome knee injury at Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. He had major ligament damage, but is still playing in the NFL today. Chances are if these two haven't talked by now, they will very soon.
The outpouring of support for Lattimore shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. The moment he went down and violently thrashed around on the ground Saturday, players from both sidelines rushed to his side. Once news of his injury made headlines, it was as if college football momentarily stopped.
Lattimore might have punished his opponents with his play, but you couldn't find anyone out there who didn't like him. He was -- and remains -- one of the most respected people in the sport. He packed a power punch, but a quiet mouth and a childish smile. He never boasted about his talent when he had every reason to and always directed praise to those around him.
Any compliments aimed his way were quickly deflected to his teammates, as he always put the team first. He's a rare breed. It's hard to find players with that kind of talent who can stay so humble. And you'd never find "trouble" and "Lattimore" in the same sentence. If any current/incoming players are looking for anyone to look up to, Lattimore is their guy.
And how about the simple fact that he's seriously considering going back to school? He could decide to dedicate his time to recovering and trying his luck in the NFL and nobody would fault him. He's already done enough, but he wants to do more. He still wants to give back to his school and its fans at the risk of a pro career. You just don't find that in players these days.
Whatever Lattimore decides to do in life, he'll likely be very successful in it. Right now, he wants to return to the football field, and if anyone can fight back from something like this, it's Lattimore.
"Can't wait until that 21 is playing out there at Williams-Brice real soon," Spurrier said.