Brian Bosworth, Marcus Lattimore And Appreciating Collegiate Greatness

As I'm sure you've heard by now, former South Carolina Gamecocks star running back Marcus Lattimore, who was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers but has spent his year-plus career on the non-football injury list, announced his intentions to retire from the NFL. His decision is largely due to the injury troubles he sustained during his college years, tearing his ACL and MCL in both knees, the left in 2011 and the right in 2012.

Coincidentally, earlier in the week I watched the ESPN 30 for 30 "Brian and the Boz," chronicling the rise and fall of former Oklahoma Sooners star linebacker Brian Bosworth. Much like Lattimore, Bosworth retired from football seemingly before his career ever really began due to the degeneration of his shoulders, suiting up in just 24 games over three seasons for the Seattle Seahawks.

While the two players could not be more different personality-wise — Lattimore the humble workhorse, Bosworth the self-promotional wild child — the similarities of their career arcs are almost eery, and the timing of the 30 for 30 release coming such a short time before Lattimore's announcement makes it even eerier.

Before there was "The Boz," Brian Bosworth was a determined football player gifted with tremendous size and speed. With his work ethic and what was relayed in the film as his overbearing father putting pressure on him, Bosworth trained and trained and trained, becoming one of the most highly sought-after linebackers in the nation. His storage unit he visits in the film displayed the hundreds of recruiting letters he received. The Texas-native standout was a wanted man by damn near everyone. Ultimately he decided to eschew his home state and head to the Texas Longhorns' longtime rival, the Oklahoma Sooners.

Marcus Lattimore was by all accounts the top running back recruit in the country. Name a big-time college program, and you can bet your ass that school at the very least sent Lattimore a letter. Everyone wanted him, and I mean everyone. He was about as highly publicized as a high school runner can be.

Unlike Bosworth, Lattimore decided to stay in his home state to play for the South Carolina Gamecocks. But just like Bosworth, Lattimore was going to play for a cocky, confident, successful, national championship-winning head coach. For the Boz, it was Oklahoma legend and later Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl-winning coach Barry Switzer. For Lattimore, it was the Old Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, who won and won and won at Florida before flaming out in the NFL and returning to bring relevance back to South Carolina.

Bosworth was told from day one he was expected to be a leader and difference maker immediately, as a teenager. And boy did Bosworth respond, unleashing his ferocious play like a bat out of hell and propelling a recently struggling Oklahoma team back to national prominence. It didn't take long for the "best linebacker in the nation" talk to heat up.

The same was true of Lattimore. The minute he stepped foot on campus and strapped on those pads, he became the most feared runner in college football. That is not hyperbole; it's fact. His size and speed, not to mention his punishing running, endeared him to fans the nation over. This was no boy trying to become a man; this was a man playing among boys. Marcus Lattimore was the best running back in the country as a teenager, and there really was no debate about this.

For Bosworth, the pressure of living up to the absurd standards he set helped create a monster. To deal with the stress, The Boz was unleashed — Brian's alter ego, with an emphasis on EGO. He began to talk. And talk. And talk. Before long, everything became about Brian Bosworth, and he played up the image. Whether he was a villain or foe depended on if you cared for his particular shade of Oklahoma red or not. But the fact of the matter is Bosworth went out each and every game and dominated, and before long he led the Sooners and Switzer to another national title.

Things didn't work out quite the same for Lattimore. After being named a First Team All-American as a freshman, Lattimore continued his dominance, solidifying himself as the best back in the nation … until disaster struck.

A knee injury cut his sophomore season short, and it was a sign of things to come. He played just nine more games in his South Carolina career, but he was never quite the same. Fearing another injury could end his football career completely, Lattimore declared for the draft following his junior season.

Bosworth, meanwhile, had his college career ended after failing a drug test for steroids and then subsequently making a mockery of himself on national television by wearing a ridiculous shirt during his suspension and taking attention away from his Sooners teammates who were trying to win another championship. He was summarily dismissed from the team and forced to head to the NFL. The Boz had overtaken Brian Bosworth, cutting his collegiate career short.

From there, things went downhill football-wise for both players. Lattimore never saw the field again in game action, his injuries taking away nearly everything that made him the most electrifying running back in college football. Bosworth played just 24 NFL games, and while he wasn't a failure when he did play, he even labels himself a bust, having to retire after just two-plus seasons due to injury. Furthermore, the man who built a reputation as the meanest linebacker in the world is best remembered in the NFL for calling out and then getting run over by Bo Jackson. Not exactly the legacy anyone was expecting when the Boz burst onto the scene.

At the end of the day, the way these two went out leaves a bit of a sour taste in the mouths of football fans. These were two supremely talented players who worked their asses off to become the best at what they do. Then it all fizzled out before it even really got started. To many that's sad.

But I like to look at the flip side. No matter what you feel — or what he feels — about the way he went about his business, Brian Bosworth was without question one of the greatest linebackers in college football history. He was big. He was fast. He was fearless. And all he did was make plays and blow up ball-carriers. I mean, just look at this shit:

Terrifying.

The same can be said for Lattimore in his short time on the collegiate gridiron. As a freshman, no running back has ever been more impressive. He ran by people. He ran through people. And he ran the ball again and again and again. The young man was the definition of a workhorse, the guy who helped the pass-happy Spurrier turn into a guy who'd hand the ball off 30, 40, even 50 times just to get No. 21 the rock. He did it for almost two years, amazing everyone who watched along the way. Again, just look at this shit:

Again, terrifying.

So while it's fair to wonder what if and almost feel like we've all been robbed of witnessing more greatness, maybe it's best to appreciate the greatness both Brian Bosworth and Marcus Lattimore gave us all during their college days. These men weren't failures or underachievers. They were simply two of the greatest players in the history of college football.

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