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Marcus Lattimore had a big-time career at South Carolina.

Marcus Lattimore, first-year head coach, draws on lessons from mentor Bobby Bentley

Mike Wilson

Marcus Lattimore never dreamed he would be a high school football coach.

He had other goals. An NFL general manager? Sure, following in the footsteps of a childhood hero, Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian, was on his mind. But that was only after a lengthy and successful NFL career.

Instead, Lattimore is a 25-year-old high school coach, running his own program and learning along the way.

“I thought my life would take a different path,” Lattimore said. “I thought I would be in the NFL, going into my fifth year. Life takes its turns, and you have to be able to adjust.

“Thank God that I have had good people in my life to help me adjust and navigate through all the adversity that I’ve been through.”

Lattimore became a high school head coach in November 2016, his hiring announced at Heathwood Hall — a private school in Columbia, S.C., the state’s capital. It was a process accelerated by knee injuries during his prolific career at South Carolina, sending him to post-football life faster than was expected.

And it has been a process aided by his experiences growing up in Duncan, S.C., playing for Bobby Bentley — a legendary high school coach at Byrnes and now the South Carolina running backs coach. Now, as a first-year head coach, Lattimore is pulling lessons he learned from Bentley to apply to his new opportunity.

“It’s not always about football,” Lattimore said. “At the end of the day, I think the culture that you create within your program can win you a few games, even if things on the field aren’t going well. It’s the discipline. It’s the respect. Those lessons of accountability, those are the things I learned from Coach Bentley. He was my high school head coach.

“Those things right there can’t be substituted. Once you put in place a culture of accountability and making sure everybody is committed with guys just being selfless and do whatever you ask them to do, you have a better chance of winning games.”

The lessons have been many so far for Lattimore, who said the challenges started with realizing how much more goes into running a program than the football itself. It involves hands-on managing skills, such as keeping parents informed and players having all the necessary equipment — things, as Lattimore said, are “meticulous little things you don’t think about.”

Lattimore, who starred at South Carolina from 2010-12, has Bentley just down the road now for advice, but the memories from playing at Byrnes linger in his mind. He recalls the way Bentley sought to make sure his players saw him as more than just a football coach. Bentley wanted to be seen as a husband and a father before anything else, Lattimore said.

“He has been able to have success because he knows what is important,” Lattimore said. “That’s a big part of why he has done the things he has done.”

When it comes to football and X’s and O’s, Lattimore’s experiences have given him plenty of great minds to draw from in his first year. He played under Steve Spurrier at South Carolina and Jim Harbaugh with the San Francisco 49ers, two coaches with long, impressive records.

“I think I was around some of the three best coaches that have ever coached: Coach Spurrier, Coach Harbaugh and Coach Bentley,” Lattimore said. “Those guys are offensive geniuses, and they are masters at getting the ball into your best player’s hands.”

That job is Lattimore’s now, as he and Heathwood Hall ready for their first game of the season on Thursday. He’s honored still that Heathwood headmaster Chris Hinchey and athletic director Jeff Whalen gave him an opportunity to be a head coach at such a young age.

Lattimore is headed into it headfirst, with knowledge gained from coaches along the way.

“You can’t substitute the person you are, so being a good person is the No. 1 priority in my program, no matter what it is,” Lattimore said. “You can’t teach that. I’ve been fortunate, and I’ve been blessed to have so many people who showed me the right way. I’ve been able to share those experiences and share some of those qualities, and we have a lot of good guys here.

“Forget the athletes. We have a lot of good guys on my roster that I’m excited to have. We are looking forward to the first game on Thursday.”