South Carolina running backs coach Everette Sands was on the way to visit Marcus Lattimore in the hospital when his phone rang.
On the line was The Citadel running back Rickey Anderson.
“It’s funny you called,” Sands told Anderson. “I was just thinking about you.”
If any college football player can relate to what USC’s star running back is going through, it’s Anderson.
The devastating nature of Lattimore’s second major knee injury set the sporting world abuzz, sparking sympathy from across the country and questions about his football future.
Anderson, a sixth-year senior at The Citadel, has faced those same questions during his career, more than twice.
Five times, in fact.
The list of injuries Anderson has faced down reads like a bad episode of “ER”:
A torn ACL in his left knee before his senior year of high school in Cape Coral, Fla.
A torn ACL in his right knee on the second day of practice in his freshman year at The Citadel.
A torn meniscus in his knee during the fifth game of his sophomore year.
A broken right fibula a week before the season opener of his junior year.
A fractured fibula in the first game of his senior year.
Three of the injuries required surgery. No wonder Anderson was awarded an NCAA waiver for a sixth year of eligibility, the first at The Citadel in director of sports medicine Andy Clawson’s 40 years at the military school.
The third knee surgery was the moment when Anderson came closest to giving up.
“I was like, ‘Dang, here I go again. Third year in a row out,’ ” he said. “That was one of my breaking points. But I called my pops from the locker room after I found out, and he calmed me down.
“He said, ‘just take your time, make sure it’s the decision you want to make. And whatever you decide, we’re behind you 100 percent.’ ”
Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said it was after the second ACL that he wasn’t sure if Anderson could come back.
“I know Rickey pretty well, and he’s a competitor,” Higgins said. “But after that injury, I thought there was a chance he would say, ‘I’m finished.’ And I started thinking about how we’d make that transition for him, help him move away from football and get his degree.
“But he came back.”
What does it take to come back, again and again?
“You have to be mentally tough,” Anderson said. “And it’s something you have to pray about.”
The months of grueling rehab have paid off for Anderson this season. As the 6-0, 205-pounder prepares for his final home game Saturday against Elon, he’s scored a team-best seven touchdowns and is averaging 8.5 yards per carry, good for 376 yards on the season.
“To see it all pay off for Rickey, it’s been great,” said Higgins. “And it’s been neat to see him grow as much off the field as on the field. He’s been able to reap some rewards on the field, and I think he has a sense of how much he means to the team off the field, as well.”
Lattimore already has vowed that he will return, and Anderson — who does not know the USC star — said that’s half the battle.
“I want to reach out to Marcus,” he said. “What would I say? I don’t know, but the thing that always ran through my mind was, ‘Is this what you want to do, play football’?
“And if the answer is yes, then just do what you have to do to get back on the field.”
Maybe Sands can hook up the two star-crossed running backs.
“It made me proud,” Anderson said, “that coach Sands thought of me when he was going to see Marcus. It’s like, if this guy can do it, he can do it.”
The Southern Conference has chosen The Citadel’s Nov. 17 game at Furman as the league’s second “wild card” game on its broadcast schedule. The 1:30 p.m. game will be shown on ESPN3.com.
The Citadel’s 1992 Southern Conference championship team will be recognized at halftime of Saturday’s game with Elon.