Navy-USC Features Tale of Two Running Backs

Allison Althouse, GoMids.com

You don't have to talk to a recruiting expert to understand the hype surrounding running back Marcus Lattimore following his junior year at Byrnes High School in Duncun, South Carolina.

His exploits, played out before nationally-televised ESPN audiences, had already earned him scholarship offers from the top Southeastern Conference schools, while his unique blend of size and speed hinted at a future even beyond that of collegiate stardom.

You don't have to talk to a recruiting expert to understand how the top recruit in the state had become a 5-Star player for Rivals.com, and you don't need to solicit those opinions to grasp how excited Gamecock fans were when he decided to take his services to the University of South Carolina.

You don't need to talk to a recruiting expert, but it helps.

"With Marcus, his size had a lot to do with it," said Jason Gilmer, who covered the 6-foot, 230-pound Marcus Lattimore for ten years while with the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.

"He just had such big numbers that people had to recognize him for what he was doing even amongst a group of such good running backs," Gilmer added.

Gilmer saw first hand what the player they called "The Horse" could do, following Lattimore's career as the talented Prep Star led Byrnes to two 4A Division I titles, in the process rushing for more than 6000 yards and 104 touchdowns. Lattimore was all-everything, and after a junior year in which he left the 2000 yard rushing mark in his dust, an SEC future seemed all but assured.

Not far from the place where Lattimore would eventually commit to play his collegiate ball at, a less than certain future on the gridiron was taking shape.

Alexander Greene, standing some four inches shorter than Lattimore and clocking in at nearly fifty pounds lighter, had just finished his career at Columbia's' Richland Northeast High School. A gifted student athlete with a 3.8 GPA and a 4.5 second 40-yard dash time, Greene mulled over a handful of college choices that December, unsure of where to take his talents. SEC schools – or any Football Bowl Subdivision universities for that matter – were conspicuously absent.

"He wasn't really recruited as an SEC type player," said Richland Northeast Coach Jay Frye. "Was he one of the more heavily recruited guys we've had? No, not by any means."

It wasn't for lack of production. Greene, who prefers to be called by his nickname "Gee Gee," ran for over 1200 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior, and had earned the attention of several quality Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) programs by his senior season. But his size was a deterrent for the bigger programs. Gilmer hadn't even heard of Green before the running back eventually found his way onto a college roster, and at the time, Gee Gee recalled getting only a few cold letters from larger programs.

"I got letters, but they weren't really recruiting me," he said.

Three programs that were recruited Greene were the service academies, and after originally committing to in-state Wofford, Green eventually switched his commitment to the Naval Academy.

The rest, as they say, is history. Recent history, to be precise. Becoming a rare true freshman to start at Navy, Greene got his feet wet in 2009, showing flashes of speed and explosive playmaking by rushing for 253 yards. His role only increased during his sophomore campaign. In 2010, Greene became Navy's big-play slotback, totaling nearly 800 yards rushing and receiving before exiting the season with the fifth-best career rushing average in Navy history.

Poised to return to his hometown of Columbia as Navy (2-0) meets 10th ranked South Carolina (2-0, 1-0) this Saturday, Green has every reason to play the "I told you so" card when confronting the local coaches and recruiters who overlooked him out of high school. But he's not focused on proving anyone wrong, and doesn't fault anyone – South Carolina coaches included - for not having given him the opportunity to play for a team like the Gamecocks.

"They're recruiters," Green said matter-of-factly. "They've been doing it for years, so they obviously know what they're looking for, so if they didn't see that in me than I respect that."

Green said his return to the Palmetto State won't be fueled by trying to validate his prep career. Winning, he said, is his only objective for Saturday.

"The game is bigger than me, and I just take it as any other game – not just that it's in my hometown, or that they didn't recruit me or anything," Green said. "I'm going to go into to game just trying to win. It's another week, and we're trying to get the ‘W.'"

"I'm always going as hard as I can, no matter who the opponent is," Green added.

Tra'Ves Bush, a Navy safety who played his high school ball at Strom Thurmond High School in Johnston, S.C., echoed Green's statements in that this particular game doesn't hold added incentive because of its location. Bush, however, did say Navy's players constantly feed off of the overlooked underdog mentality, and are hungry to prove they can go toe-to-toe with the big dog in a gridiron fight.

"I think as a team overall we have that feeling," Bush said. "We've all heard that someone was bigger and someone was faster than us, so I think we all have that motivation that even though we might not be as strong or even though we might not be as fast, we still can play with them."

Not that Green or Bush is letting that mentality detract from their respect for Lattimore. While neither played against the Heisman Trophy candidate Running Back, they both have been impressed with his ability on the field, and character off it.

"He seems like a humble guy," Greene said before recalling one situation from his youth in which he had the chance to see Lattimore in action.

"I think my sophomore year he was in a power-lifting competition with me, and he was in my weight class at the time. He was like a real quiet, humble guy. I just feel like he's a good running back, and I see him on the field, but I also feel like he's a hard worker and humble too."

Frye, who said he'll be in attendance Saturday to watch his former star tailback, said that while Greene and Lattimore are polar opposites in running style, they both share character traits not often found in today's college athlete, and both catch the ball out of the backfield well.

"Both are similar in the fact that both can catch the ball out of the backfield and that both are outstanding young men from what I can understand."

Not yet seniors, both Greene and Lattimore will likely go on to make plenty of highlight worthy plays in their respective careers at Navy and South Carolina. And while one is likely to go on to a career making millions in the NFL and the other goes on to serve his country, for one Saturday in September their paths will cross. When that happens, the tale of two of South Carolina's homegrown products will have another chapter added to its pages, and another climax to its already rich football tradition.

Adam Nettina is the former sports editor of the Utah Statesman and a freelance sports writer. You can contact him at AdamNettina – at – gmail.com

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