Program Spotlight: Luke Lathan
By Mark Kimmel
Raleigh, N.C. - Luke Lathan runs out from the Murphy Football Center every football Saturday in the fall to a loyal Wolfpack fan base that fills up Carter-Finley Stadium religiously. Among those sell-out crowds, Lathan has a rooting section all to his own that over the years has grown to as many as a dozen people at any one game.
You see, Lathan, the starting center for NC State, is a bit different than most college age students. Yes, he is nearly 300 pounds and stands 6-foot-4, which already makes him unique to most, but he also has responsibilities as a husband. And as you continue to read that is only the tip of the iceberg for the Wolfpack’s starting center.
Lathan initially met his bride to be after the Florida State game in 2004 during his red-shirt freshman season. However, karma and a little coincidence played an important role in the two “strangers” getting together.
Luke’s mother went to high school with Melissa’s parents in California and Luke’s grandfather was his now father in-law’s boy scout master. So after losing contact for 30 years, the long lost friends reconnected in the Triangle with Luke playing football at State and Melissa and her family relocating to near-by Apex.
The Lathan family extended an invitation to Melissa and her family to attend a game. And as Luke explained after the game was over against the Seminoles, “it seemed like the crowd parted ways for her”, and up in the stands he saw who would ultimately become his wife. The couple began spending as much time as possible with the two balancing a schedule with school and football. And five months later the couple was engaged and got married in June of 2005.
And the two have benefited greatly from their union. “She has gotten me so focused,” said Lathan. “I have become a better student and she helps to keep my priorities straight.”
Lathan was named to the ACC Academic Honor Roll last season and will graduate this December 19 with a degree in biological business management. He has aspirations to work in the medical sales profession once his days of football are over.
At a time in Luke’s life, playing football, graduating from college and getting married seemed like a fantasy to him and his family. He and his fraternal brother were born a month pre-mature with undeveloped muscle problems. His brother had issues with his ear development, which required a later surgery, while Luke suffered problems with his muscles from his face down to his chest that resulted in Luke’s inability to speak until he was six years old.
“Throughout my childhood I was really skinny and had a real problem playing any sports”, explained Lathan. “I was with a speech therapist up through sixth grade.”
But Lathan believes getting involved in athletics played a large role in his development. “I think my parents got me into so many sports - basketball, baseball and soccer on a year round basis because I really needed the work to get stronger.”
As he matured and began to grow into his wiry frame, his health problems became a thing of the past. He enjoyed a very successful tennis career as a youth. Lathan was the Florida state 14 and under champion.
Never a die-hard football fan through middle school, he took up the sport beginning in the ninth grade at Clay High School in Fleming Island, Fla. He began following in his father’s footsteps as one of the star players on his squad.
By his sophomore season, he realized he could get a scholarship to play football. While the recruiting process was going on, he narrowed his choices to Florida, Clemson, Wake Forest and the Wolfpack.
And why did he choose to don the Red and White? “Raleigh felt like home,” Lathan said. “My entire family is Italian and I really related to Coach Amato and the loud, outgoing atmosphere at NC State. I enjoyed the southern hospitality and the fact that the fans were nice and seemed to really care about you.”
Originally recruited to play tackle for the Pack, Lathan was moved to guard a month into freshman season. He then switched to center three weeks into his red-shirt freshman season after an injury to starter Leroy Harris. And ever since then he has relished in the role. The center can be regarded as the leader of the offensive line with a lot of responsibilities that can go unnoticed when hidden among the massive lineman.
“I enjoy getting the offense on the right page,” said Lathan. “The center has to make the calls, make the defensive front calls, tell everyone the blocking assignments and then relay it on to every one else.”
“It all starts with me and then the guards have to echo my calls on to the tackles. I have to be loud enough for the backs and the tight end to know where were going. Coach always says that whatever the center points out, even if its wrong, its better to have all 11 people doing the wrong thing right than having four people doing one thing and having seven others doing another.”
One other passion that Lathan has become involved with is community service. It is something that he began getting involved with back in high school after his junior varsity coach Ron Riddle left an unbendable impression on him.
“Coach Riddle would help kids on our football team that came from broken homes,” explained Lathan. “He would bring them in and take care of them and he didn’t have to do that, he was 60 some years old. He always raised money for the homeless and habitat for humanity and that really got me into helping people.”
Lathan began investing his time in this community during his red-shirt freshman season with the Pack and generally speaks to children around the Raleigh area.
“I remember in elementary school, Jacksonville Jaguar players would come to speak with us and I thought that was one of the coolest things. I didn’t even like football that much, so I figured for a kid that didn’t even like football that much and how much it meant to me, I can only imagine how much it would mean to a kid who loves football,” said Lathan.
He recalls one of his more memorable experiences when he and DaJuan Morgan spoke to a group of kids at the Murphy Football Center about hardships.
“I talked about my muscle problems when I was born pre-mature and I had to go to special ed and they thought I had mental problems. I told them how my parents worked with me to improve my strength and how my doctors didn’t even think when I was little that I would be in a position I am at right now to speak to you,” professed Lathan.
He enjoys teaching lessons about responsibility and how a person is supposed to conduct ones life. “I think its something all student-athletes need to do,” said Lathan.
We all agree with you Luke.