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Lattimore wants to prove a point

- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

Keon Lattimore knew a decade ago he would play for Miami.

His brother, Ray Lewis, was a star linebacker for the Hurricanes. Lattimore lived in Miami for three years, staying on campus when his brother was in school. He loitered about the program's facilities endlessly, even visiting then-coach Butch Davis' office and becoming a de facto younger sibling for the likes of Warren Sapp.

Yet when it came time to make a college decision, Lattimore was a bit hurt the Hurricanes wanted him as a safety rather than a tailback. He instead chose Maryland, a school willing to put his talents to use in the offensive backfield.

"I kind of feel like [West Virginia star] Steve Slaton feels about Maryland; I kind of feel like that with Miami," said Lattimore, now a junior. "Although they offered me, they didn't want to play me at running back. They wanted to play at the defensive side of the ball. I was like 'I want to prove a point.' "

Lattimore, part of the Terrapins' backfield tandem with Lance Ball, finally receives that chance tomorrow when Miami (5-4, 2-3 ACC) and its staunch defense visit No. 23 Maryland (7-2, 4-1).

He easily could have been on the other side. Lattimore smiled as he recalled how close-minded he was initially, even as his brother urged him to explore other options. But even Lewis seemed certain about Lattimore's collegiate destination when he met with Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen early in the recruitment process.

"He sat on this couch and I said 'So is he going to Miami, or what?' " Friedgen said this week in his office. "And Ray said 'Yeah ... Oh, no, no, I didn't really mean to say that.' "

Despite his determination to play for Miami, Lattimore received encouragement from Mike Working, his coach at Mount St. Joseph's in Baltimore, to think about Maryland. Working already had sent Rob and Paschal Abiamiri to College Park, and eventually pestered Lattimore into attending a camp at Maryland.

Lattimore quickly developed a rapport with then-Maryland assistants Mike Locksley and James Franklin. Then came Miami's offer, which led to a decision Lattimore never thought he would have to make.

"I guess they didn't take him," Friedgen said. "Their loss is our gain."

Lattimore's emergence as a complement to Ball would have been unexpected at this time a year ago. He struggled with shaky play as a sophomore, rushing for only 181 yards before a shoulder injury ended his season.

Those problems prompted Lattimore to slim down, dropping from between 230 and 235 pounds to 210 pounds when camp convened.

"I worked so hard in the offseason on my diet and just working one explosiveness," said Lattimore, who is averaging 4.9 yards a carry. "I was running up the hills with my brother and running on sand on the beach. It helps when you come back to running on regular turf or grass. If you can run on sand, when you get back on regular turf or grass, you're going to float."

It hasn't been a perfect season for Lattimore, who was held to 2 yards on five carries in a loss to Georgia Tech last month before responding a week later with a career-high 114 yards against Virginia. He was limited to 38 total yards Saturday against Clemson, prompting Friedgen to remind Lattimore of what made him successful earlier in the year.

"Last game I didn't think he ran with the same recklessness he had been running with," Friedgen said. "The last time he did that he came out and had a big game. I told him he had to get back to doing that and stop picking his way and be aggressive with his running. Make a decision, and make the right decision."

It already has been a busy few days. Lattimore swapped calls with Miami wideout Lance Leggett, a childhood friend, to discuss the game earlier in the week. Lewis won't make it to Byrd (his Baltimore Ravens play at Tennessee on Sunday), though Lattimore said his brother would be watching and cheering for him from the team hotel.

And despite some initial insistence this game is not more important than any other, Lattimore acknowledged he was especially excited to face Miami with the Terps still chasing a spot in next month's ACC title game.

"Just going into a big game like this, you don't know how fired up I am," Lattimore said. "I'm trying to keep it at a minimum, but I'm pumped up."

Notes -- Maryland and Towson will meet in football in 2011 in College Park, Towson officials announced yesterday. Towson, a Division I-AA school in the Baltimore suburbs, has never played Maryland in football. ...

Friedgen said there would be a moment of silence before tomorrow's game to honor Miami defensive tackle Bryan Pata, who was shot and killed Tuesday outside of his apartment complex. He also said tailback Josh Allen and linebacker Wesley Jefferson approached him about the team donating its per diem -- between $10 and $15 a player -- to Pata's family, though he did not know if a decision had been made.