SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Frank Gore wants those around him to notice just how hard he's running at age 31, seemingly as energetic as ever when everybody is beginning to question when he will slow down. Or break down.
Ask him how his body is holding up, how he feels, and Gore quickly offers a good-natured retort: "You tell me how I look."
So far in 2014, no words necessary. The veteran San Francisco running back reached another milestone in Week 1, becoming the 29th player in NFL history to run for 10,000 yards — and just the 10th to accomplish the feat while playing for the same team for at least 10 seasons.
"Yeah, it's crazy. I try not to think about," Gore said of being a 30-something veteran. "I try to still be a young guy on the field. I just try to look better than the other guys, whoever stayed at 10 (years) or if they're younger."
Despite Gore's youthful spirit, the 49ers still face a delicate balance between keeping him fresh and giving rookie Carlos Hyde chances.
Even with an heir apparent at the ready, Gore isn't ready to say this season will be his last. There's still so much he wants to prove, not to mention the unfinished business of winning a Super Bowl.
"I train hard," Gore said. "I still love it. I'm still having fun with it."
Gore produced his seventh 1,000-yard performance in nine NFL seasons last year, rushing for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns — one off his career high set in 2009.
"He looks good, and he looks that way every year," running backs coach Tom Rathman said. "It doesn't surprise us. The bottom line is we've got to keep him at that throughout the season. He knows that. It's hard to go through a whole season and take the pounding and not having help. Gosh, if anybody can do it, it would be Frank Gore. You love what you're getting from him, you know what you're getting from him."
Gore passed late Hall of Famer Joe Perry to become the Niners' all-time leading rusher in 2011.
The 49ers are likely to go with the hot hand and some combination of Gore and Hyde as they did in a season-opening win at Dallas. Gore's first step, foot speed and explosiveness haven't changed much.
Gore received more congratulatory messages than he could count.
"A lot of people were happy for me, especially the type of career I had, coming from college, with two ACLs, two shoulders and a hip (injury)," he said Wednesday.
He is always quick to credit the offensive line or key blocker Bruce Miller for his accomplishments and big gains.
"He always surprises me because you feel like with the years going on that he'll come back and he'll be banged up and tired and a little bit older. It just doesn't happen," Miller said. "He looks awesome. That's Frank Gore, though, every year. I've never seen him do anything less."
Gore realizes where he is at this stage of his career, and the need the 49ers have to groom young players behind him. He accepts that, yet it doesn't change the fact he wants to be a part of every snap.
He still thinks back to all the chats he has had with mentors and fellow backs along the way, such as close friend Roger Craig, Marshall Faulk or LaDainian Tomlinson.
"I used to train with a lot of those guys when I was a young buck and they were around what I am now, like 10 years in," Gore said. "I used to listen to them, if you want to be successful at your position you should take in from guys who did it, who've done it. That's what I do. I'm really big on that."
Now, he is providing that same kind of example for Hyde, and relishing the role.
Teammates and coaches have become accustomed to Gore going all out, even in the most basic of drills. It never changes.
"That's a beautiful thing," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "Doesn't surprise me with Frank, because Frank loves the game of football, and he loves being a part of a team, loves overcoming. It's just been the story of his career, so why would it be any different now?"
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