Marshon Lattimore could be the first Ohio State player taken Thursday in the first round of the NFL draft.
The cornerback’s story is one of talent, of hard work, of parental and coaching guidance. It played out on the biggest of stages in 2016 as he became a star in his only season as a starter for the Buckeyes. But the groundwork was paved by painstaking work behind closed doors as Lattimore worked to overcome hamstring injuries that threatened his career. It consisted of extraordinary effort by the Buckeyes’ training and medical staff and cutting-edge technology.
And tons of Epsom salt.
“It’s just a blessing being in the position I’m in today,” Lattimore said at the NFL combine last month, “because I didn’t even know if I was going to be healthy enough to play.”
From birth, Lattimore seemed destined to be a football player.
“When he was maybe 10 minutes old, I held him up and said a prayer,” his father, Marland, recalled. “I said, ‘This is my tailback. This is my ballplayer.’ Me personally, I think God heard me.”
Marshon’s talent emerged quickly. He was only 4 or 5 tagging along with Marland, who coached a youth-league team of kids up to 12 years old. One day at practice, as a lark, Marshon took a handoff and split the defense.
“It was like his moment,” Marland said. “I was coaching defense and everybody clapped it up for him.”
Marland was both thrilled about his son and angry at his defense. He made them do push-ups.
In youth ball, Marshon played running back and linebacker before switching to receiver and cornerback at Glenville High School. He became a blue-chip recruit and one of the cornerstones of Ohio State’s 2014 recruiting class.
But he arrived in Columbus already beset by hamstring issues because of an injury he sustained running track in his final spring at Glenville. On his third day of Ohio State’s preseason camp, Lattimore realized he couldn’t keep playing. He was diagnosed with a torn left hamstring that required season-ending surgery.
“When he tore his hamstring, I cried,” Marland Lattimore said.
He and Marshon’s mother, Felicia Killebrew, drove from Cleveland to Columbus to provide support.
“We tried to keep in good spirits,” Marland said, “because he felt because there was so much hype about Marshon Lattimore that for him to go down like that, he felt it was over with. I told him, ‘All you’ve got to do now is focus on your books, focus on your education. Go study. You’re here for education, too.’ He did that.”
Lattimore earned scholar-athlete honors. But his luck on the field wasn’t much better in 2015. Again on the third day of camp, he strained his right hamstring. For Marland, the timing stirred painful memories. His own college career at Central State ended after only three days of camp because of a bad knee.
Marshon’s 2015 injury didn’t require surgery, but he was never at full strength and his season ended in October.
Ohio State’s medical and training staffs decided to go all out in hopes of saving Lattimore’s career. Every possible method was employed.
“We had a systematic plan for him,” said Mickey Marotti, Ohio State’s assistant athletic director for football sports performance. “It was pretty in-depth.”
Head trainer Shaun Barnhouse and physical therapist Adam Stewart led the effort. Ohio State used a sensor to monitor how his glute muscles responded to drills. One intern’s responsibility was to get continuous, instantaneous reports during practice.
“He would stand there with his cellphone and get readouts,” Marotti said. “He actually got ripped at practice one time because coach (Urban Meyer) thought he had his phone out. He started yelling, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ I said, ‘Coach, he’s monitoring Marshon.’ ”
Marotti bought a “posterior change strengthening” device that cost about $3,000, strictly for Lattimore.
“We had great results with it, so we bought other ones,” he said.
Lattimore took up yoga in the offseason to increase his flexibility. Only when he got through training camp in 2016 did he feel confident that his hamstring issues were solved. His in-season treatment included Thursday night sessions floating for up to an hour in a pod filled with warm water and 900 pounds of Epsom salt.
“It gets your body recovered like no other recovery tool,” Marotti said. “You can’t sink. You just float.”
The work paid off. Lattimore quickly emerged as a star in 2016 and is considered a likely top-10 overall pick.
“Any elite athlete wants to play,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. “When that doesn’t happen, it’s very frustrating. But I think (the injuries) spurred the kid on to be a phenomenal player. He hated not being out there. It drove him nuts. As a result, he treasures it more than most.”
On Thursday, Lattimore will almost certainly get his reward.
“Just watching him working hard through the highs and lows and setbacks and bad breaks,” Marland Lattimore said, “it’s like mission accomplished.”