Last October, a couple of days after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament in a victory over Tennessee, South Carolina star running back Marcus Lattimore received a phone call from San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore.
Lattimore had torn his left ACL during the 2011 football season, and Gore felt led to provide encouragement. Gore, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards six of his last seven years in the NFL, tore his left ACL and then his right ACL when he was in college at Miami.
"Frank Gore has been doing his thing for a while," Lattimore said on a conference call Saturday. "He's definitely an inspiration."
In a draft that had its share of inspirational stories, Lattimore was picked in the fourth round as the 131st overall selection by the NFC champion 49ers, where he can now learn under Gore. The 5-foot-11, 221-pound Lattimore guided the Gamecocks to their first Southeastern Conference East Division title as a freshman in 2010 and was especially effective against Georgia, plowing through the Bulldogs for 467 yards in three series meetings.
Lattimore was among 63 SEC players drafted, which broke the league's previous high of 56 set in 1951. The Atlantic Coast Conference was next in this year's draft with 31 selections, which matched the SEC West's tally and trailed the SEC East by one.
Alabama had nine players selected, the most for the Crimson Tide since 10 went in 1945. LSU also had nine selections, while Georgia tied a program record with eight.
Florida also had eight, which means that Alabama, LSU, Florida and Georgia had more players chosen than any other conference.
Among the notable undrafted SEC players who signed free-agent contracts were Alabama safety Robert Lester (Carolina), Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen (St. Louis), Georgia noseguard Kwame Geathers (San Diego), Georgia receiver Marlon Brown (Houston), Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray (Kansas City) and Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers (Jacksonville).
Also undrafed was former Tennessee and Tennessee Tech receiver Da'Rick Rogers from Calhoun, Ga., who signed with Buffalo.
The Crimson Tide's surge continued Saturday when linebacker Nico Johnson was tabbed by Kansas City with the second pick of the fourth round. Midway through the fourth round, the St. Louis Rams selected Alabama's Barrett Jones, the only player in SEC history to earn all-conference honors at center, guard and tackle.
"What Barrett has been able to accomplish down there is pretty impressive," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said in a news conference. "He has played numerous positions and won numerous awards and has held that offensive line together. Those kinds of guys find a way to play in this league for a long time."
Georgia got going Saturday when cornerback Sanders Commings went to Kansas City as the first pick of the fifth round, with receiver Tavarres King going to Denver later in the fifth. Bulldogs defensive end Cornelius Washington was projected by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper as a second-round pick after dazzling scouts at the NFL combine, but he went to Chicago as the 20th pick (188th overall) of the sixth round.
"I probably overrated him a little bit based on his computer numbers," Kiper said on the telecast.
Safety Bacarri Rambo, who was suspended at the start of the past two seasons at Georgia, was the 191st overall selection and went to the Washington Redskins.
Vanderbilt had two players drafted, with running back Zac Stacy going to St. Louis in the fifth round and guard Ryan Seymour going to Seattle in the seventh.
Lattimore is running straight ahead and box jumping in his rehabilitation and still has a goal of playing this year. The 49ers also have former Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter and former Oregon running back LaMichael James on their roster.
"It's still surreal to me," Lattimore said. "This is a great opportunity with a great organization, and I can't wait to get there and be a part of that running back family."
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh called Lattimore to inform him of the pick and told ESPN that he also called Lattimore's mother to tell her what a wonderful job she has done raising her son.
"This is a unique person," Harbaugh said. "We're betting on Marcus Lattimore, and we think that's a good bet."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.