Gore just getting started
It's the same focused, mild-mannered and determined Gore now beginning the early stages of preparation for a 2007 season that will carry with it a whole new brand of expectations and perceptions for both the 49ers and the young running back with the inspiring story who already is considered the team's best player after just two seasons. Best player? Gore wants it to be known - even after his record-setting burst into NFL prominence in 2006 - that, at the tender age of 23, he still is just getting started. "Every time I step on the field, my goal is to be the best," Gore said early Tuesday afternoon in a chat with 49ers writers - his first since his appearance as the NFC's starting running back in the Pro Bowl two months ago. "I want to be the type of back that can be successful year in and year out," he continued. "I really want to let a lot of people know I can play and get my name out there." Gore's name is out there, all right, after statistically the most productive season by a running back in San Francisco's 61-year history. Gore put his name out there among some of the truly elite running backs in NFL history while rushing for a franchise-record and NFC-leading 1,695 yards last season, when his 5.4 yards per-carry average was the seventh-best in league annals for a back that finished with that many rushing yards. That breakout season earned Gore - who was scheduled to make just $435,000 in base pay this season according to the original deal he signed as a rookie in 2005 - a contract extension and new five-year deal worth $28.012 million that includes a $6.5 million signing bonus and $14 million in guaranteed money. That's star money - and certainly a stratosphere of which Gore deserves to be part after his swift rise to prominence and the role he played in San Francisco's resurgence last year after two of the worst back-to-back seasons in franchise history. Of course, Gore - who lives and breathes football during the season and rarely gets out much around the San Francisco Bay Area to enjoy the limelight like some others are wont to do - hasn't exactly gone about throwing around his new-found riches. The only thing he has done so far is buy his dear mother Liz a new Lexus truck Gore's dream since he came out of inner-city Miami as one of the top prep running backs in America at the turn of this decade was to be able to take care of his family and mother, who for years has undergone dialysis treatment for kidney disease. "I'm all right," Gore said, declining to elaborate on the satisfaction of the monetary rewards of his hard labor and perseverance in overcoming a multitude of obstacles in getting to this point - including major surgeries to repair torn ligaments in each of his knees. "I just want to play football hard and not have to worry about anything," Gore continued. "I am set. It feels good (to have some security). It feels great. When I was coming up, I had to go through a lot. I got a chance to be a starting back and proved to people that I could do it. The hard work paid off." But - just like his record-setting season of 2006 - Gore is quick to put his fat new contract into a category of things already accomplished. He is one guy who is more concerned with looking at what's ahead. And what's ahead for Gore includes goals of lifting the 49ers back into a position of relevance as a NFL contender while chasing rushing records that go beyond those he already has shattered in San Francisco. Gore said at the end of last season that he is eyeing Eric Dickerson's NFL record of 2,105 yards rushing, and he isn't backing off that lofty objective. "That's my goal," Gore said. "I want to do better than I did last year. That's a big step, but I am going to try and work hard this offseason. If it happens, it happens. If it don't, it don't. But I am going to try and do better than I did last year." To that end, Gore said he plans on slimming down a few pounds to add quickness so that he can, in his words, "finish off runs." Gore played at 215 pounds last year, but says he would like to play this year at 210. The lighter weight will make a difference, he said. "I think I can probably finish my runs better at that weight," Gore said, "and getting faster on my long runs. If I could have found a way to finish my long runs, I would have probably led the league (in rushing last year) and scored more touchdowns. Instead of getting three points, we would have gotten seven points." After locking up Gore as their franchise back for the foreseeable future, the 49ers obviously are looking for ways to keep him fresh and avoid exposing their prized commodity to too much punishment. Depending on the status of restricted free agent Maurice Hicks - who has until April 20 to sign an offer sheet with another NFL team - the 49ers may look for another running back in the upcoming draft to work in behind Gore and second-year back Michael Robinson. But the plan for Gore in new offensive coordinator Jim Hostler's system - "He knows that I can make things happen with the ball in my hands," Gore said - essentially remains the same as last season, when Gore's 312 carries also set a new franchise record. "For us, it's featuring the guy who is your best player," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "If you have another (running back), I think that's a good way, too. You don't want to beat up your best guy. You want to take a little bit of wear off him. Our guy likes to play, though. Some guys like to come out so when they go back in it's a fresh carry. Frank is not that way. Frank wants to stay in there all the time, even when he's a little gassed." But right now, life is a gas for Gore. And so is football. Healthy and happy entering San Francisco's offseason program - and now also wealthy and wondering what kind of heights he can reach for - Gore remains full of fire and motivation for what lies ahead. "I love to play the game," he said. "It's not about the money with me. I am happy I have it and that I am secure. But I love the game. No one is going to have to worry about me slacking off. I love competing."
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