Gore planning more record runs to come

Now that he has everybody's attention, Frank Gore isn't messing around. The NFC's 2006 rushing champion, after setting a new franchise record with 1,695 yards, says the most productive season by a RB in 49ers history is just the start. "I'm going for 2,200 (yards) next year," Gore said Monday. "That's the record, right? Eric Dickerson, right? Yeah, I'll get that." Then Gore added, "I'm serious."

After what the second-year pro accomplished in his first season as a full-time starter, it's not so outlandish that the mild-mannered Gore now is shooting for the stars, since he's become one of those himself after finishing with the 30th-highest rushing total in NFL history.

After all, what's another 410 yards or so after the kind of season Gore just had as the workhorse on a rebuilding offense that still is far from hitting its stride?

That's what Gore would have to add to his 2006 total to match the NFL single-season record of 2,105 rushing yards set by Eric Dickerson in 1984, Dickerson's second season with the Los Angeles Rams. But Gore isn't setting his sights on just topping that record total. He wants to smash it.

And the 215-pound sparkplug knows a thing or two about smashing records. That's how Gore spent this past season, regardless of how the offense and players around him were performing.

Of course, Gore's not about to suggest he deserves all the credit. Some of the first words out of his mouth Monday morning, as San Francisco players packed up and said their good-byes after an uplifting 7-9 season, was to thank those around him who helped make his breakthrough season happen.

"It's a blessing," Gore said. "I couldn't do it without my O-line, my quarterback, my receivers. They were always there for me."

And Gore was always there for them.

"That's what I love about the guy," said right guard Justin Smiley, who helped pave the way for Gore's record runs. "He told us up front, he was like, ‘Man, I wish I could take every one of you guys to the Pro Bowl with me.' He knows, and that meant a lot to me. He knows that he can't do it without us."

Oh, yes. Gore still hasn't stopped running this season even though it's 2007. He'll be the NFC's starting running back in the Pro Bowl in February, and he's not exactly approaching his trip to Hawaii as a football vacation.

Gore said his first order of business will be to return home to Miami to spend some time with his mother, Lizzie, and family. But he plans to rest for little more than a week before he starts training seriously again. While the Pro Bowl may be fun and games for some, Gore is going there for the first time with purpose.

"I have to still compete against the other backs for a couple of weeks," Gore said.

Competition could be Gore's middle name. He competed with incumbent Kevan Barlow for the starting role entering training camp in July, and so decisively put Barlow in the dust by the time the preseason rolled around that coach Mike Nolan felt comfortable dealing Barlow away to the New York Jets for a fourth-round draft pick that will come in handy for the 49ers this April.

That meant everything to Gore, who was determined not to disappoint the men who gave him that opportunity.

"I know a lot of people thought coach Nolan was crazy when he made me the starting back because of my past and my injuries and stuff," Gore said. "But I proved a lot of people wrong. And now I hope people know that I can do it now."

Gore started each of San Francisco's 16 games this season, carrying the ball at least 10 times in each of them and rarely leaving the field because he was nicked.

That wasn't characteristic of Gore's injury history after he had major surgery on each of his knees in college, then surgery to repair torn labrums in each of his shoulders earlier this year after becoming, in 2005, the first rookie in 15 years to lead the 49ers in rushing.

Now he'll enter an offseason as fresh as he ever has been since bursting onto the college scene as a Miami freshman in 2001.

"Last year, I didn't start working out until the end of the summer because I couldn't run, I couldn't lift with my upper body," Gore said. "Now, I get a whole summer of training. That's good. I can come feeling real good into training camp."

Despite his late start in 2006, Gore broke Garrison Hearst's single-season team record Sunday with a 153-yard outburst at Denver, the third-best of Gore's team-record nine 100-yard games this season.

Gore also broke Hearst's records while setting new team marks for total yards from scrimmage (2,180) and most yards rushing in a game (212 in Week 11 against Seattle). Gore, the first 49er to lead the conference in rushing since the 1970 NFC/AFC merger, also averaged 5.4 yards a carry, the best of the 23 NFL running backs to rush for 990 yards or more this season.

When he wasn't running, Gore was catching. He led the 49ers this season with 61 receptions, becoming the first running back to lead the team in that category since Roger Craig in 1988.

"He's really something," Nolan said. "When I think of Frank, I think of a guy who has a lot of heart and passion to play this game and be a team player. That's the thing I really appreciate about him the most - he's just a great team player as well. Whether he's going to have a great day with a lot of yards, or he's just pounding it out and we're in the game - as it was in the Minnesota game - he's the same guy all the time."

Said Smiley, "He could be the guy that's all about himself, not about the team, and all he cares about is his records, and him going to the Pro Bowl and stuff like that. But the only thing I think about Frank is sometimes he's so hard on himself, which is a good thing, because he wants to be the best so bad that sometimes it works against him. When he gets kind of down, it tells me that he feels bad because he feels like he let us down."

But now Gore is on the up as the calendar turns to 2007. Up, up and away.

"We're still a young offense," Gore said. "We still have a lot to learn. It's my first time starting. I learn more as I play. This offseason, we'll get together and we'll just build from there. And next year, it's going to be real crazy. Real crazy."

Which, when it's Frank Gore doing the talking, doesn't seem so crazy at all.


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