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The odds were against him, but NFL stardom was always Frank Gore's dream and now he's making it come true


Frank Gore listened apprehensively as his high school coach outlined everything he had to accomplish in the classroom to realize his dream of playing college football.

The list was daunting.

"He broke down and started to cry," Coral Gables High coach Joe Montoya recalled. "I told him, 'If you really want to play, you have to do these things.'"

Frank Gore wanted to play football - that has never been in question.

Gore exhibits the same drive today as a second-year 49ers running back as when he was a junior in high school. He has overcome tremendous personal challenges to rank second in the NFL with 1,043 yards rushing, entering Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams.

Gore set a 49ers-record with 212 rushing yards in a 20-14 victory against the Seattle Seahawks. He was named NFC offensive player of the week on Wednesday for the second time this season.

Yet, with all his natural ability and a relentless desire to maximize his football skills, Gore could have seen it all end after a record-setting high school 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, affecting his comprehension of written material.

Montoya knew if Gore did not make up credits from the two years of regular classes his missed, he would not qualify for college. His aspirations of a professional career would likely be finished.

"When he realized he was that far behind, Frank told me, 'I don't know if I can make up all this work,'" Montoya said. "I said, 'Yes, you can. You just have to take it one thing at a time.'"

Gore spent countless hours in night school and summer classes the next two years. There were times when Gore showed up late for football practice or had to leave early. Other times, he missed practices entirely when there were conflicts with his studies.

He entered high school with a reported third-grade reading level, but after an intense two years of work, Gore's reading skills had risen to 10th-grade level.

"I worked hard at it, and I had a lot of people help me," Gore said. "I went to a tutor and everything."

All the while, Gore lived in one of the roughest neighborhoods of Miami with his mother, Liz, a single mother of three who was battling kidney disease and had started dialysis treatments.

"He went through a lot and you could tell that it bothered him at times," Montoya said. "But his way out of everything would be to go to the field and just play and practice. That's how he dealt with it."

Through all the turmoil, Gore established himself as perhaps the greatest high-school running back South Florida has ever seen. He set a Dade County records with 2,953 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior.

"We would run certain plays, traps and counters, and Frank would see it, hit it, turn the corner and ... see ya," Montoya said.

Gore turned down scholarships to several major NCAA Division I schools that were better equipped to handle his academic challenges, Montoya said. Gore decided on the University of Miami, so he could remain at home to assist his mother.

His career at Miami was wrought with frustration. He tore the anterior-cruciate ligament in his right knee in the spring of 2002, and his left ACL in 2003. He left school for the NFL after his junior season as a first-round talent whose history of injuries scared off many NFL teams.

"Those two injuries back-to-back for him were devastating," Montoya said. "You have no idea."

After his second injury - amid questions of whether he would ever fulfill his unlimited promise - Gore said he viewed it as a message from God.

"It made me realize that in life God puts people in different situations for certain things," Gore said. "He probably wanted to show me who cares about me and who doesn't care about me when I can't play football no more."

Niners personnel chief Scot McCloughan followed Gore closely since his freshman season at Miami. Even with the knee injuries, Gore received a passing medical grade from team doctors. That was all McCloughan had to hear.

The 49ers selected Gore with the first pick of the third round, making him the seventh running back chosen.

"He's going to do everything in his power to make himself a great player," McCloughan said. "If you take football away from him, you take his life away. He's overcome a lot. He's God-given as a runner. He has balance and vision. He's a very unique back."

Gore said he is getting accustomed to being away from his mom, who is still awaiting a kidney transplant. He took a flight to Miami on Sunday evening after his record-setting game, taking advantage of two days off to surprise his mother with a visit.

Even though he is so far away from home, he said he likes playing football in the Bay Area because there are fewer distractions.

"I can think about football," Gore said. "That's the good thing about it. I can focus all on football."