COLUMBIA, S.C. - Marcus Lattimore rarely forgets that his success comes from hard work - and not all of it is his alone.

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Marcus Lattimore rarely forgets that his success comes from hard work - and not all of it is his alone.

South Carolina center T.J. Johnson said that after games when he scrolls through his messages, there's always one from Lattimore thanking him for his effort.

"We're very proud and thankful to have Marcus Lattimore as our running back," Johnson said.

Johnson can expect plenty more "thank you" texts this season if Lattimore continues his stellar play for the 12th-ranked Gamecocks.

Lattimore rushed for 246 yards and scored all three of his team's touchdowns in a 24-21 victory over Navy last Saturday. It was his third 100-yard-plus game this season, earned him co-offensive player of the week honors in the Southeastern Conference, and made him the nation's rushing leader with 534 yards.

Next up is Vanderbilt (3-0, 1-0) in an SEC game tonight, and the Commodores have Lattimore's full attention. "I know personally, I've got to get better, getting ready for Vandy," he said.

Lattimore has been rock-solid for South Carolina (3-0, 1-0) since arriving on campus in 2010. Coach Steve Spurrier praised the freshman for his focus and work habits almost immediately. He became the school's first 1,000-yard rusher in 10 years, and he set the school record with 19 touchdowns, helping the Gamecocks win their first SEC East Division title.

"Marcus wants the ball, obviously," Spurrier said.

He also wants to handle himself with grace and humility when he's not plowing through defenders. Lattimore regularly speaks to schoolchildren about the importance of education and to church groups about faith. He is among the most-accessible athletes on campus.

Lattimore worked hard in the offseason to improve his durability and strength. He added about 15 pounds coming into fall camp, and the Gamecocks have taken advantage.

He had gashed Georgia for 182 yards as a freshman in 2010 and was the Bulldogs' prime focus during the rematch two weeks ago. Still, Lattimore nearly matched his yardage total from last season (176) and scored the touchdown that put the Gamecocks ahead for good in a 45-42 victory.

Last week, when Spurrier wanted to keep Navy's effective option offense off the field, he had the ball handed off to Lattimore - quarterback Stephen Garcia was the only other player credited with a rush - and Lattimore finished with 37 carries.

To Lattimore, it was just a typical game in which he'll do whatever he's asked. He has heard his name connected to the Heisman Trophy, but he said he is more interested in improving.

Although many fans saw a career-best performance against Navy, Lattimore said: "I left a lot of yards out there."

Lattimore will be the focus of Vanderbilt's defense, Commodores coach James Franklin said.

"Marcus Lattimore, I think, is as good as it gets in terms of a combination of speed, vision (and) balance," Franklin said.

"He's an impressive player."