Gore to the Fore, Part II
If Frank Gore wasn't born to play running back, he came pretty close to it. "I guess I've been playing running back ever since I was five years old," he said, and that early indoctrination led to Gore becoming perhaps the greatest prep running back South Florida ever has seen. As a senior at Coral Gables High School, Gore set a Dade County record with 2,953 yards and 34 touchdowns rushing while establishing himself as one of the nation's top prep players. But even with all his natural ability and relentless desire to maximize his football skills and potential - and with several elite major college programs knocking down his door - Gore could have seen it come to an end after his record-setting prep career. Gore was enrolled in special-education classes in English and math during his first two years at Coral Gables because of a learning disability, which affected his comprehension of written material. Gore had to make up credits from the two years of regular classes he missed or else he would not qualify for college, and his dreams of playing in the NFL might be finished. Gore spent countless hours in night school and summer classes the next two years, getting both guidance and inspiration from his mother Lizzie, who at the time was beginning a long battle with kidney disease that continues today. Gore entered high school with a reported third-grade reading level, but after an intense two years of work, his reading skills had risen to 10th-grade level. Gore turned down scholarship offers from several major Division I colleges that were better equipped to handle his academic challenges to play at his hometown University of Miami, where he could remain at home and help his sick mother. But his career at Miami, which started with a flourish, was filled with adversity and hardship. Backing up Clinton Portis as a true freshman, Gore rushed for 562 yards and averaged 9.1 yards per carry, and the future at the position was his as Portis would be moving onto the pro ranks after the season. But Gore tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the spring of 2002 and missed the upcoming season, and his backup, Willis McGahee, took Gore's place and became an All-American star. Gore returned as the starter in 2003, but he tore the ACL in his right knee in this season's fifth game, jeopardizing not only his college career but also the first-round NFL draft status of which he appeared destined. Returning just ninth months after his second knee surgery to rush for 945 yards as Miami's starting tailback in 2004, Gore then opted to leave school after his junior season as a first-round talent whose injury history scared away several NFL teams. But not the 49ers. "I felt I was ready," Gore says now. "I had a tough road in college. I got hurt. Then my last year, I had an alright year, I finished the year up. My mom was sick. I had a kid. I felt like it was time to move on." So Gore was an early entry in the 2005 draft, and he waited and watched on draft day as the picks - and then the rounds - slowly passed him by. Auburn's Ronnie Brown went to the Miami Dolphins with the No. 2 overall pick of the first round. Texas' Cedric Benson went two picks later to the Chicago Bears. Brown's college teammate, Carnell Williams, then went to Tampa Bay with the next pick - three running backs selected in the top five picks of the draft. Then Cal's J.J. Arrington went No. 44 overall in the second round to Arizona, and Louisville's Eric Shelton went 10 picks later to Carolina. As the second round came to a close, Gore's name still was on the board. "I was sitting back thinking and felt like I was better than a couple of other guys that went in front of me," Gore said. "I felt like I was overlooked. I always thought that I would be one of the top guys that came out of my class. I knew what I could do on the field, and that motivated me. I just wanted to show a lot of people that they made a mistake and did the wrong thing by not picking me, and whoever took me, I was going to show them that they did the right thing." Gore has been showing the 49ers and the rest of the NFL ever since. "He's a very unique back," 49ers vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan said. "He has balance and vision, and he's going to do everything in his power to make himself a great player. He lives and dies football. That's all he has is football, which intrigues you, because those are the kind of guys you're looking for, guys that are always trying to get better. Even if he misses a practice, it bothers him. It's like taking part of his life away." Gore doesn't deny that he lives and breathes football during the season. He resides just around the corner from 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara, and spends a considerable portion of his spare time at the team facility. Nolan said he left the facility at about 10 p.m. one evening earlier this season only to see Gore talking with team personnel in the training room. "Frank doesn't leave here and have a tremendous amount of things going on his life," Nolan said. "He's all football. However it's occurred, Frank is mentally tough. He's very resilient and he's a football player through and through. He's got team in him, which is one of the things I love about him. When you get a really talented guy like Frank that wants the team to be successful, you've got a winner." Gore is having a considerable amount of success in his own right. And as he builds on one of the best seasons ever by a 49ers running back, his potential for greatness appears unlimited. "God gave me a gift, and I use the gift he gave me," Gore said. "The more I touch the ball, the better I get. But I just want to win, man. Whatever it takes to win, I'm good with it. Whenever coach calls my name, I'm going to do my best to give my team a good chance to get a W." And that means records and possible rushing titles along the way as Gore rushes boldly into the great unknown. Getting Gore was big score for 49ers: The 49ers knew what they were doing when they made the steal of 2005 draft by selecting running back Frank Gore in the third round. Gore so far has been one of the most productive players to emerge from that draft, displaying top-of-the-first-round talent this season on his way to becoming one of the NFL's leading rushers and challenging for the league's 2006 rushing title. Scot McCloughan, the 49ers' vice president of player personnel, had been following Gore's career closely since his freshman season at the University of Miami. Like many other NFL personnel gurus, McCloughan became wary of Gore's NFL viability after he suffered torn anterior cruciate ligaments in each of his knees a year apart, with both injuries requiring major reconstructive surgery. But McCloughan wasn't quite as wary as others. See www.sfillustrated.com for full story
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