As a backup to Clinton Portis on the University of Miami's national championship winning team in 2001, Frank Gore, as a true freshman, looked like the best running back on the team. Averaging over nine yards per carry in a reserve role, he seemed destined to go down as not only the best Hurricane runner ever, but perhaps one of the greatest in college football history as his career unfolded.
But prior to his sophomore year, when he'd beaten out Willis McGahee for the starting running back job in the spring, he tore his ACL and missed the entire season. He returned to play in five games in 2003, where he averaged over five yards per carry. As a junior, he accumulated over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and scored eight touchdowns, But to many, it seemed that he still hadn't, and would probably never again, regain the dynamic speed, power and explosiveness that he showed as a freshman prior to the injury.
Certainly, NFL stardom seemed like a long shot. Now fast forward 13 years later.
Yesterday, Gore became the oldest running back since John Riggins to rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season and the first Colts running back to rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season since 2007. He has now passed Jim Brown, Thurman Thomas, Franco Harris, Marcus Allen, Edgerrin James, Marshall Faulk and Tony Dorsett to sit at eighth on the NFL's all-time rushing list.
Drafted by the San Francisco in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft, he went on to become the 49ers' all-time leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns during his ten years with the franchise. Quietly and with little fanfare, Gore has put together a resume that stands among the very best in league history. Only Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and Gore have nine consecutive seasons with 200 or more carries while also maintaining an average of four yards per carry or better.
In his 12 NFL seasons, he's topped the 1,000-yard plateau nine times. In 2010, at the age of 27, he was being written off as being past him prime after rushing for 853 yards and missing five games. In the six years since, he's only missed one start while gaining a combined 6,651 yards. His career total now stands at 13,065.
"When I got to 28, I heard I was on my last leg," Gore said recently. "That just motivated me to keep going. I never let a man judge me. I believe in the man up above. As long as he has my body feeling great, I train hard in the offseason and I still love the game, I'm going to come back and play as hard as I can."
"It has been 32 years since a (33)-plus (year old) has done that," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said, referring to Gore topping 1,000 yards this year. "John Riggins was the last to do it in 1984. Frank is (a) guy that is as tough as they come, as passionate as they come and that guy loves, loves football and he loves to play this game."