ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A year ago, no one knew who Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville) was. Today, Alabama, USC, Michigan, Ohio State and Oregon are knocking on his door, hoping the all-everything athlete might choose to continue his football career on their campuses.
He’s the No. 51 player in the ESPN 150 and the top prospect in the Ohio, but search him on YouTube, Hudl or most recruiting sites and the player didn’t exist before nine months ago. In recruiting years he’s an infant.
For most prospects -- stuck in a cycle that keeps moving earlier and earlier, featuring younger and younger players -- the thought of few or no offers as a rising junior signals a failure on the field, not a glitch in the system.
But Lattimore wasn’t fazed by his lack of attention. In many ways, he invited it. The 6-foot, 178-pound athlete had passed up the opportunity to play on the Glenville varsity as a sophomore, He was content playing with friends on the JV and waiting his turn for the Friday night limelight.
“I wanted to get a scholarship, but I was willing to wait my turn and then do what I needed to do,” Lattimore said. “I was just waiting for my turn.”
Following his sophomore season, like most recruits in a similar situation, Lattimore was told to attend college camps that would be at his “offer level.” There’s little use in a lesser-know, lesser-exposed player attending summer camp at the Alabamas and Ohio States of the world. No one had mentioned any national combines to Lattimore, and he hadn’t been invited to any of the invite-only regional camps. JV highlight films don’t garner that recognition.
So Lattimore chose camps at Toledo, Ohio and Bowling Green.
He left Toledo with an offer, but Ohio and BGSU without. They needed more time, apparently.
He threw in an Ohio State camp for good measure and left that camp with an offer. People wondered what Urban Meyer saw. He had interest from Bowling Green and Akron, an offer from Toledo and not much else. He had to be a “MAC-level kid,” right?
So when the team took the field for fall camp, Glenville offensive coordinator Tony Overton was excited to see what Lattimore would do both on the field and in the recruiting realm.
He had known Lattimore for years, and Overton had been the main proponent of attempting to get Lattimore to consider varsity the previous year.
“He was 14 years old and it was more important to just have fun and play football with his friends,” Overton said. “But by his junior year, that was over with. He had a different look in his eyes and a different mentality. You meet those kids that play JV as a sophomore and they become role players as a junior, but he was ready to take over the team and be the guy.”
In the first game of the season, St. Edward rolled Glenville, 42-14. Lattimore looked good, but not spectacular, not worthy of much more than his MAC interest. And with St. Ed’s second string in the game, it was hard to really gauge talent level for future opposing coaching.
But the following game against Solon, Lattimore put on a show worthy of his soon-to-come offers.
Solon and Glenville hadn’t played the previous season, so Lattimore hadn’t had the opportunity to destroy Solon’s junior varsity defense. There were no red flags near his name, no reason to believe he would be anything other than decent.
But if his first, second or third touchdowns didn’t dispel that notion, maybe his fourth – an 80-yarder -- did. He made one-handed catches and broke tackles on offense, locked down receivers on defense.
“When they needed a big play, a big first down or a big catch, [Lattimore] did that,” Solon coach Jim McQuaide said. “He made some really tremendous catches where he really needed to extend, jump or come out of nowhere to make the play.”
It was the play that would be expected of a high-level prospect. And the exposure for those national-level recruits usually just requires high-talent athletes to attend the camps or get special invites or gain publicity from junior high. Future kings of the game are crowned before they get their driver’s permits.
But for those who don’t get that early exposure, they’re afforded the experience of a coming-out party. They get to be a surprise on a big stage. An under-the-radar performer in a field where everything is picked up on the radar.
He backed up that Solon performance with huge game after huge game. And suddenly, the kid with heavy MAC interest and a one Big Ten offer had the attention of the country. It seemed nearly every day Glenville coach Ted Ginn had a new message for Lattimore.
Brian Kelly called.
Brady Hoke called.
Lane Kiffin called.
"It was really a dream come true, especially playing JV the year before. Having all the coaches call me, I was really honored to have that," Lattimore said. "I was surprised in the beginning but I guess I expected it. I knew if I worked hard I could get there. I knew my hard work could eventually pay off."
The morning after Lattimore stole the show against Solon, he and teammate Darius Lewis drove to the Ohio State-Miami (Ohio) football game.
They stopped at a Burger King on the way to grab some breakfast and when they walked in the door they saw the Cleveland Plain Dealer sitting on a table. When Lewis flipped over to the front page they saw a photo of Lattimore breaking away from a Solon defender.
Lewis paid for the newspaper and threw it in Lattimore’s direction.
“Ahh, look at you,” Lewis jabbed. “People are gonna know you now.”