ST. PETERSBURG – When linebacker DeDe Lattimore last performed for the University of South Florida Bulls – a 31-6 lost-cause defeat at Rutgers on Dec. 7 to cap USF’s 2-10 season – he had tears in his eyes.
Lattimore, determined to go out in the proper manner, had a career-high 18 tackles that night. Afterward, he was emotional while grieving over the end to his college football life.
But he had no regrets.
“That’s the kind of pride you want to see in every player,’’ USF coach Willie Taggart said. “That’s the kind of pride that will take him a long, long way.’’
Perhaps all the way to the NFL.
Lattimore will play for the East team in Saturday’s 89th annual East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field, an all-star showcase that is viewed carefully by the league’s coaches, general managers and personnel directors.
“I feel like I left everything on the field (at USF),’’ said Lattimore, 6-foot-1, 237 pounds. “That’s the way I have to approach this game. I’m going all out.’’
Last year’s East-West Shrine Game served as a springboard for USF cornerback Kayvon Webster, a third-round pick by the Denver Broncos who is one win away from the Super Bowl, and linebacker Sam Barrington, a seventh-round pick by the Green Bay Packers.
Lattimore already caught the eye of former NFL player Paul Spicer, who is working on the defensive staff of East coach Jerry Glanville.
“I think DeDe is a smart kid who can run, a little bit undersized maybe, but I think he has the heart and determination to make plays,’’ Spicer said. “Sometimes, that overrules talent. He has the effort and energy you look for.
“He really attacks you. He’s going to play downhill and be very physical. I think he has a shot to get into a camp, impress some coaches, contribute on special teams, make a name for himself. He’s a guy you should watch.’’
Glanville said Lattimore – along with all the East players – showed great knowledge and allowed practices to run smoothly.
“You find out in coaching that you can’t fix stupid,’’ Glanville said. “You’re looking for people who aren’t stupid. Stupid guys get you fired. I noticed every time they ran me out the door, I was chasing three dumb guys. You want intelligent guys. We have them here. Intelligence and versatility … you like those qualities.’’
Spicer said Lattimore’s versatility is a plus. For most of his final two seasons at USF he was a middle linebacker, but he began on the weak side. This week, he has played inside and outside.
“Whatever they want, I’m going to do,’’ Lattimore said. “There are a lot of eyes on you, a lot of people around the (practice) field, but I’m treating this just like a game. I’m just doing my job and not letting anything distract me. It’s just like a game.’’
Actually, in a very important way, it’s different.
Lattimore and Florida State University defensive tackle Demonte McAllister, an Alonso High School graduate who also plays for the East team, said they were deeply moved by a visit to the Shriners’ Hospital.
“Just going there and making a kid smile, I embraced every moment of that,’’ Lattimore said. “It was more of an honor for me than it was for them.’’
“We’re all worried about our future and how we’re going to play and these kids, they were so joyful and playful, they didn’t care about anything,’’ McAllister said. “It makes you realize how fortunate you are to come out here and run around and practice. It was a reality check for all of us.’’
What: 89th annual East-West Shrine Game.
Where: Tropicana Field.
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
TV: NFL Network.
Tickets: $15 general admission.
Need to know: Head coaches are Jerry Glanville (East) and Romeo Crennel (West). … Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois is one of the East quarterbacks. … he West team includes Toledo WR Bernard Reedy from St. Petersburg Lakewood High. …State of Florida players include USF LB DeDe Lattimore, FSU DL Demonte McAllister (Alonso High) and Miami WR Allen Hurns.