Marcus Lattimore is heading back to South Carolina after ending his two-year comeback attempt from reconstructive knee surgery.
The 49ers running back, a fourth-round pick last year, said the challenge of playing in the NFL became “insurmountable.” He practiced for the first time this season last week. But after two days of practice, which included his first football contact since 2012, the soreness in his right knee returned and he began mulling his retirement.
“I have given my heart and soul to the game that I love, and it’s time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life and help others,” Lattimore said in a statement. “I have given every ounce of my energy toward making a full recovery from my knee injury, and I have made a lot of progress.”
Lattimore was Mr. Football in South Carolina as a high school player and then started at the University of South Carolina. He tore his left ACL as a sophomore in 2011. The next year he suffered a more severe injury to his other knee that left observers wondering if he’d walk normally again.
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He rehabilitated from that injury well enough that the 49ers risked a mid-round pick on him, but Lattimore never made the team’s active roster.
The 49ers have two tailbacks – Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde – on the 53-man roster, with a third, Kendall Gaskins, on the practice squad.
Lattimore is one of the most popular athletes to have played at South Carolina, and head coach Steve Spurrier said Wednesday he let the former running back know he had a position at the university if he wants it.
Lattimore’s 49ers teammates said they respected the hard work in his effort to return.
“I was looking forward to seeing him on the field, seeing what he could do,” quarterback Colin Kaepernick said.
Willis sits out – The 49ers might have to play another game with backup inside linebackers Chris Borland and Michael Wilhoite after starter Patrick Willis missed Wednesday’s practice with a toe injury.
Willis, who injured the toe Oct. 13, practiced on a limited basis every day last week. Missing Wednesday’s practice suggests he suffered a setback or at least is taking a different approach to this week’s game.
Borland started at Willis’ “Mike” linebacker spot in Sunday’s loss to the Rams. He missed an assignment that led to St. Louis’ only touchdown, but he also had 18 tackles, a league-high this year.
Wilhoite will play in place of NaVorro Bowman, who still is several weeks from returning after suffering an ACL tear in January.
Outside linebacker Dan Skuta (ankle) did not practice, either. Skuta endured several games last season with a foot injury, and he said he thought he might play Sunday against the Saints. If not, it would leave the 49ers with three outside linebackers: Ahmad Brooks, Corey Lemonier and rookie Aaron Lynch.
Aldon Smith’s suspension was not reduced as the 49ers had hoped. He is scheduled to return Monday.
Et cetera – Defensive end Demarcus Dobbs, waived by the 49ers on Tuesday, was claimed by the Seattle Seahawks on Wednesday.
▪ Gore (hip) was among the 49ers who were limited in practice. He was observed getting his hip examined by doctors during Sunday’s game.
▪ Coach Jim Harbaugh said it’s still possible the team could stay in Youngstown, Ohio, between Sunday’s game in New Orleans and the following week’s game in New Jersey, but the plan at this time is to return to the Bay Area following the Saints game.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.