Eric Latimore may only have sophomore eligibility at Penn State, but he's far removed from his high school days in Middletown, Del. How far removed? Consider this: Both of the other defensive ends in his recruiting class -- Maurice Evans and Aaron Maybin -- have already completed their college careers.
Watching his classmates compete in front of 110,00 people on Saturdays while he waited his turn wasn't always easy.
“Me being a competitor, it took a lot of patience,” Latimore said.
Originally recruited as part of the Lions' 2006 freshman class, Latimore, who will turn 23 in February, is finally getting his shot. He has played in all four games for the Lions this season and started the first three before Jerome Hayes was tapped to start against Iowa. Through four games, he has seven tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
What was Latimore doing prior to the 2009 season? Healing up, for one thing. He suffered a shoulder injury in the last game of his junior season at Middletown High, and the injury, which did not require surgery, recurred in the second game of his senior season. As the year went on, his shoulder kept popping out. Worse, the other shoulder began popping out, too, and he was forced to have surgery on both shoulders.
Fixing two shoulders, as it turns out, is even more laborious than you might think. The surgeries cannot be done at the same time, because the patient needs the use of one arm. Latimore had surgery on the original injury and then had to wait for the joint to heal and his strength to come back before he could have the other shoulder fixed.
“That made the process a little bit longer,” he said.
Latimore didn't join the Penn State football team until 2007. He redshirted his first season, then played in nine games last fall, backing up Josh Gaines.
Last January, Maybin and Evans both declared themselves eligible for the NFL Draft. Although their departures created an opportunity for more playing time, Latimore, who was fully recovered from his shoulder problems, said he was sad to see them go. “They had to do what they had to do,” he said. “I had to step up to the plate and be the player that I can be.”
This year, Latimore has helped Penn State amass 12 sacks. The Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in that department, but they only got to Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi twice in their 21-10 loss last Saturday, and one of those sacks came on a cornerback blitz. Latimore said opposing quarterbacks have been using three-step drops to get rid of the ball quickly and thwart the Lions' rush. He recommended patience as he and his counterpart at the opposite end spot, sophomore Jack Crawford, get acclimated their new, expanded roles.
“I think we're playing well,” he said. “But we're still young. We're learning.”