By David Villavicencio
CORAL GABLES, Fla. - Four Pro Bowl selections, a second team All-Pro selection, and the 49ers all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, Frank Gore's career is full of accolades.
Gore, 29, could also add Super Bowl champion to his impressive list of accomplishments, as his 49ers are preparing to play the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday for the Lombardi Trophy. But Gore's greatness began well before he joined San Francisco's roster in 2005.
The Miami native is arguably the greatest high school running back in Miami-Dade County history. As a senior at Coral Gables High, Gore broke the county single-season records for rushing yards (2,953) and touchdowns (34). He also set the county single-game rushing record, ripping off 419 yards in one contest against Miami Southwest in 2000. Those records still stand today.
After being recruited by seemingly every football program in the country, Gore chose to attend the University of Miami and play for his hometown Hurricanes.
Many expected a player as talented as Gore to jump to the top of Miami's running back depth chart as soon as he stepped on campus. But the Canes had an impressive stable of backs that included future NFL standouts Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee as well as Najeh Davenport and Jarrett Payton.
Gore did not let the talent-rich backfield scare him away from Miami. The freshman earned the role as Portis' backup as a freshman, rushing for 562 yards and five touchdowns on 62 carries, while helping Miami win its fifth national championship. Even in a limited role, Gore's talent was evident and The Sporting News named him Big East Freshman of the Year.
"Competition. If you want to be the best, you have to play with the best. I wasn't scared of competition," Gore told reporters at Super Bowl Media Day.
The daily competition for reps between Gore, Portis, McGahee and the rest of the talented backs at Miami ultimately helped all of them elevate their game and maximize their potential.
"I had great coaches," Gore told The Miami Herald at Super Bowl Media Day. "Joe Montoya at Gables, and so many at UM. And everybody from Jim Harbaugh on down with the 49ers. You know, I've never had to do anything all by myself. I've always had great teammates, great family."
Portis went on to be a second-round NFL Draft pick in 2002. In nine NFL seasons with the Broncos and Redskins, he was named the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, earned two trips to the Pro Bowl and was selected as an All-Pro in 2008.
Gore redshirted in 2002 to rehabilitate from knee surgery, allowing McGahee to step in as the lead back for the Canes and earn a spot in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft.
"I found out at the University of Miami that you have to be ready for anything and everything," Gore told The Miami Herald at Super Bowl Media Day. "And that's never been clearer in my mind than it is this week."
Like Portis, McGahee has also made two Pro Bowls in nine seasons. The current Broncos back was selected as the Comeback Player of the Year in 2004 while with the Bills and has also played for the Ravens. He missed the entire 2003 season rehabbing a knee injury sustained in his final collegiate game. But the Miami native made an impact from the second he stepped on an NFL field, rushing for over 1,100 yards in three of his first four NFL seasons.
Gore returned to action in 2003, rushing for 468 yards on 89 carries and scoring four touchdowns in just five games before a knee injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
After suffering two devastating knee injuries, Gore could have quit football to focus on his studies. But Gore has never been the type of person to give up on anything, so he worked hard to get healthy and it paid off.
"You have to finish," Gore told The Miami Herald at Super Bowl Media Day. "You have to finish whatever you start."
The 2004 season would be Gore's last in a Hurricanes uniform and it was also his best. As a junior, Gore played in all 12 games, amassing 945 yards and scoring eight touchdowns on 197 carries.
Gore showed enough in his time at Miami to become the 65th-overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft and he has continued to progress as a player since joining the professional ranks.
The 29-year-old has proven himself as an elite talent at every level and never shied away from competition. Instead, Gore relished the challenge and became a better player because of it.
All of Gore's hard work and determination have paid off, as he has reached the peak of his profession. Soon, he may earn another outstanding achievement: a Super Bowl title to match his National Championship ring.