- Associated Press - Monday, May 9, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - It’s the top of the fifth inning, The Goon Squad versus Alpha Dog Straight Ballin’.

“Easy out! Easy out!” someone yells from the opposing dugout as Marcus Lattimore steps up to the plate, game face sternly plastered on.

It’s a Monday night at a Columbia recreation league kickball game, and the three people watching from wooden bleachers are a far cry from the 80,000 fans who used to scream for Lattimore at South Carolina football games in Williams-Brice Stadium.

There’s no angry old ball coach throwing a tantrum and his visor on a sideline, just Lattimore lobbing good-natured trash talk at the opposing team and slapping high-fives after nearly every one of the 15 runs his Goon Squad scores.

It’s a blowout.

“We play hard,” Lattimore said.

Oh, yeah, they do.

Kickball isn’t a game taken lightly by Lattimore, who once ran nearly 250 yards in a football game, who scored more rushing touchdowns than any other Gamecock in history despite a truncated playing career.

A lifelong athlete, Lattimore craves competition.

“You always want to find that thrill again, something to match that adrenaline rush that you get while you’re playing the game,” he said.

He rediscovered that thrill recently after overhearing some neighbors at his apartment complex talk about putting together a kickball team. “Sign me up!” was his reaction.

Since then, Lattimore has become the motivational force of the Goon Squad. He runs the team through sweat-breaking warm-ups. And, like Lattimore, his teammates lust for victory.

Is it intimidating to come up against a star athlete on a rec league kickball field?

“Just because he played on the practice squad for the 49ers?” said Bryan Hendry, a member of the Alpha Dog Straight Ballin’ team. “It’s not different than (playing) any other team.”

In an earlier game between the two teams, Hendry remembers he forced Lattimore into a standoff - or “pickle” - with Lattimore caught between third base and home plate, trying to evade an out.

“He got back on base. He knew what was better for him,” Hendry said.

He might pose for photographs with his opponents after games, but Lattimore doesn’t take it easy on them on the field. In fact, he’s the biggest trash talker on his team.

“He ain’t gonna kick nothin’!” he yells from the bleachers as a player from Alpha Dog steps up to the plate.

“When I played football, I never did that. Never,” Lattimore laughed. “But out here, I feel like I’m able to loosen up a little bit and have fun. … I can be more of myself, I feel, because I’m a clown in the closet.”

That side of Lattimore surprised his teammates at first, said Tyler Miles, Goon Squad’s captain.

“All of us were like, hey, you know, we’ve got to keep it classy,” Miles said. “We don’t want to do anything to offend anybody and make him look bad. But little did we know, it was him talking trash.”

Miles had known Lattimore only in passing as apartment neighbors before becoming his teammate.

But playing together has brought the whole team together as friends, they said. Often, they’ll all gather after games or practices to eat and hang out with one another.

“You’ve heard about what a great guy he is,” Miles said of Lattimore. “You get to read about him through the press. But then you actually get to play and see his leadership - it’s unbelievable. Everything you hear about him, it’s true.”

Miles said one of his favorite things about having Lattimore on the team is also having Lattimore’s wife, Miranda, as a teammate and watching the two of them interact.

Lattimore isn’t soft on coaching his other half, but it’s all in good fun.

“After the games, we’ll be leaving, and even if I scored a point he’ll say, ‘Yeah, but you could have caught that ball,’” Miranda Lattimore said. “He’ll also ask what he should do better.”

She was surprised when her husband told her he’d signed them up for the team, but she’s glad he did.

The Goon Squad is “not just our teammates,” she said. “They’re our friends now.”

And now that Lattimore has caught the kickball bug, “I’m about to be in every single league in the city of Columbia,” he said.

“We plan on playing in softball leagues, flag football leagues, all the different leagues they have,” he said. “We plan on getting involved with them and bringing more people out here.”

___

Information from: The State, http://www.thestate.com

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