GULF BREEZE, Fla. -- If anyone was likely to suggest South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney should be able to jump to the NFL without waiting the mandatory three years out of high school, it would seem to be South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore.
Lattimore, after all, was teammates with Clowney. And Lattimore, after all, suffered a gruesome knee injury in October when he was probably already physically and mentally mature enough to handle the NFL.
Debate: The Clowney controversy
NFL rules won't allow South Carolina star Jadeveon Clowney to enter the draft until 2014. Our analysts debate a hot topic. More ...
But Lattimore said Thursday he supports and respects the league's mandate.
"I feel like it's more of a maturity thing, as far as waiting three years," Lattimore told NFL.com during an extensive interview for publication next week. "I feel like it's fair, I really do. I feel like three years is the right thing to do.
"It's a matter of maturing, getting stronger. If you leave after your second year, you're 19 years old playing against 30-year-olds."
When told he was probably mature enough as a junior to be playing with the NFL's best, Lattimore said: "You're right. But I'm cool with the rule. I wouldn't change a thing. I'm cool with it."
Lattimore, who is training in Gulf Breeze at Athletes' Performance Institute and the Andrews Institute to rehabilitate his surgically repaired knee, said he also expects Clowney to play at South Carolina next season, rather than potentially trying to sit out a season to preserve his health for the NFL.
Many college and pro scouts believe Clowney would be a high first-round pick in this year's NFL draft if eligible.
"He's a great player," Lattimore said. "He's going to be the No. 1 pick overall. But he's a guy that, he can't sit out a year. That's what kind of person he is. I mean, he's not going to miss a year of football."