COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Three years ago, South Carolina's record-setting running back Marcus Lattimore waited anxiously during the NFL draft to see which - if any - team would take a former first-round talent with two seriously damaged knees.
Now, Lattimore is about to complete a different goal - graduating from the University of South Carolina on May 6. He is ready to take the next step in a journey away from the sport he planned to make his career.
''This college experience the past six years now, it's really revealed to myself who I really am and what's important to me,'' Lattimore said this week. ''That's helping the people in the state of South Carolina.''
Lattimore made a lot of Gamecock fans very happy when as a prep running back and one of the nation's most sought after players, chose South Carolina over Auburn six years ago.
He made an immediate impact at South Carolina, rushing for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns as a freshman and leading the Gamecocks their only Southeastern Conference East Division title in 2010.
Lattimore was on the way to more success when his final two years were derailed by devastating knee injuries, first to his right knee in 2011 and then his left in 2012.
''I thought it was a nightmare,'' Lattimore said, reflecting on the day he was laying on the ground at Williams-Brice Stadium after shredding several ligaments four years ago in a game against Tennessee.
Lattimore entered the NFL draft that December and was selected in the fourth round of the 2013 draft by San Francisco, the 49ers crossing their fingers that with time and hard work the tailback could find his pre-injury form.
But Lattimore said the knee never fully sprang back and he retired from the game in November 2014.
It was a difficult adjustment.
''I was very immature. I was very young. Football was my life. Football was everything to me and everything I did revolved around football,'' Lattimore said. ''Then I learned you've got to find something else to do real quick.''
So Lattimore returned home to finish his degree in public health and received his college ring with other South Carolina athletes in a ceremony Tuesday. He'll officially walk across the stage next week.
Lattimore kept himself active while in school working with his foundation, which holds youth football and life-skills clinics among other things.
First-year South Carolina coach Will Muschamp discovered quickly the high regard school administrators, coaches and athletes had for Lattimore and looked to add the ex-athlete to the staff in an off-field role.
To do that, however, Lattimore would've had to suspend foundation work since the camps he runs are viewed as unfair NCAA recruiting advantages if he's an employee of the school.
Lattimore chose to stay with his foundation, a choice Muschamp fully understands.
''He's a Gamecock. He's always going to be a Gamecock. He's going to be very involved in our program,'' Muschamp said. ''Unfortunately, we cannot pay him.''
Lattimore, the Gamecocks record-holder with 38 career rushing touchdowns, is OK with that, too.
The new alum said he'll be around South Carolina football quite a bit and will do what he can to help the Gamecocks back to the success - they were 31-9 in Lattimore's three seasons - of a few years ago.
Lattimore's unsure what else is ahead for him. Perhaps coaching, perhaps continuing to motivate young athletes, perhaps a business venture. Right now, though, he's busy enjoying the options open to him as a college graduate.
''I want to find that niche,'' he said. ''I know I'm good with people. I know I have to be around people to be a happy person. Wherever life takes me, I'm looking forward to this next journey, this next step.''