49ers running back Raheem Mostert riding best wave of career

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MIAMI — Raheem Mostert glides.

Most running backs dart around the field with short, choppy steps — think Barry Sanders, starting and stopping and starting again. Raheem Mostert doesn’t dart. He drifts at high speeds, like a surfer who cruises along a high-powered wave.

Mostert is a surfer at heart. He grew up in New Smyrna Beach, Florida — 250 miles north of Miami — and learned to surf before he learned to play running back.

“He’s got such a unique stride to him,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “It’s just so smooth, something that I would picture a guy who’s good in the water would move like. He’s very deliberate. Doesn’t hesitate. He gets the ball, hits the hole and hits it fast. That’s what I love about blocking for him. He’ll never hesitate, so I really don’t have to hold my block as long as I would for a slower guy that is indecisive back there.”

Before a play starts, Mostert stands in the backfield and surveys the line of scrimmage the way he would survey the ocean for waves. “I see guys working hard and doing their part in order for the run game to open up,” Mostert said. “Then I find a hole and hit it, just like I would on a surfboard when I find that wave and ride it.”

What does Mostert think when he hits the hole?

“I’m thinking about scoring every time,” he said. “If I can’t score, I just make the best out of it.”

Mostert scored four touchdowns and rushed for 220 yards during the 49ers’ 37-20 win over the Packers in the NFC championship game. This was the best game of Mostert’s life, not just his professional career. Now he’s one of the biggest media draws of Super Bowl week, and he has a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl MVP if the 49ers beat the Chiefs.

“He’s just so fast,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “And he doesn’t stop to cut. He just keeps running. They call him ‘Slasher.’ Most guys try to juke you. Raheem ain’t trying to juke. You better take the right angle. If not, you’re going to miss him.”

Mostert still has never started a game in the NFL. He comes off the bench, even though he averages a whopping six yards per carry for his career. He didn’t make the 49ers’ roster for his ability as a running back — he made it because he’s good at special teams. During training camp, he was fourth on the running back depth chart behind Jerick McKinnon, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida.

Mostert wasn’t even a running back when he went to college.

“I came into Purdue as a wide receiver — that’s my natural position,” Mostert explained. “I had to make that transition to running back my junior year when we got a new head coach. I made that decision because I wasn’t getting that opportunity at receiver. I was falling behind on the depth chart. I switched to running back to see if I could get out on the field. It clearly worked, because now I’m here.”

As a senior, Mostert rushed just 93 times. He was the backup to Akeem Hunt, who currently plays running back for the Ottawa Redbacks of the Canadian Football League.

Purdue didn’t know what it had in Mostert. Neither did the six NFL teams that cut Mostert between 2015 and 2016 after he entered the league as an undrafted free agent.

“I got to play with him in Baltimore, so I got to see firsthand him bouncing around,” Juszczyk said. “To finally see him stick with the team, it’s the perfect NFL story. Everybody roots for that kind of guy, a guy who doesn’t complain, who fought his way from being a special teams ace. Once he got his opportunity, he took it and ran with it.”

Or surfed with it, you could say.

“I keep that list of teams that cut me,” Mostert said. “That way I have motivation, just to keep me going forward. Eventually I knew I would stick on a team, it was just the right fit, the right time and the right purpose. That’s why I keep those lists.”

Mostert found the right fit, and now has established himself as a quality NFL running back. He’s so important to the 49ers, they won’t let him surf anymore. It’s too dangerous. They wrote a “no surfing” clause into his contract. They need him on the field — lots of teams would love to have him. But he still feels he has something to prove.

“Whether I’m the starting running back or I’m second on the depth chart, fourth on the depth chart, I always feel like I have something to prove,” Mostert said. “I just try to go out there and have fun. Be a little kid. Don’t let my highs get too high or my lows get too low.”

He’s riding the wave.

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