LendingTree Bowl - Rice v Southern Miss
Getty Images

FRISCO, Texas -- What's in a name? 

When it comes to football, the name Frank Gore evokes consistent rushing production (the 16-year running back totaled 16,000 career rushing yards, the third-most in NFL history) and greatness. He is a surefire, future member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame once he becomes eligible in 2026. 

However, for his son Frank Gore Jr., a 2024 NFL Draft running back prospect out of Southern Mississippi who earned East-West Shrine Bowl Offensive MVP honors, the weight of the name proved to be a double-edged sword with plenty of pros and cons. 

"A lot of expectation, a lot of doubt. A lot of judging. It was a lot," Gore Jr. said of being his father's namesake. "It was a blessing for sure because I got to be with my dad and be able to see how hard he worked and how much he put into the game. But there was a lot of doubt from others and outsiders. But I'll say I overcame it, and I'm beating the odds for sure."

The pressure ratched up when Gore Sr. pulled Gore Jr. out of private school to put him at the public high school he attended in South Florida, Coral Gables High School, to ensure his son was challenged early and often.  

"He didn't want to go to my school because he didn't want all the pressure because of his name and what I had done in high school," Gore Sr. said. "I told him 'look bro, I just want you to be the best you want to be, the best you can be, but if you get mentioned with my name, you're doing something good. You don't have to worry about the pressure. You just have to go out, handle your business and do what you can do.'"

Although the future Hall of Famer understands his son dealt with a lot.

"I'll probably be more happy than him when he gets his name called [in the draft]," Gore Sr. said. "I know it's hard. Having a dad who was successful in the league, and he's coming behind me with the same name and same position. He's almost there. I remember when I was playing for the Dolphins [in 2018], I used to go to some of his high school games, and people would come talk trash to me about my son. … He kept going. That's a plus. I just want people to know that he's real man. He's going to make it. I just know this for a fact. He is going to make whoever give him an opportunity, he's going to try his best to prove people that they made the right decision. That's how I am."

Born to ball

Gore Sr. knew his son was a football player from an early age. 

"He [Gore Sr.] put me into organized football," Gore Jr. said. "I used to run around, I got a lot of older cousins, like four, five years older. So when I, yeah, five years older, when I was young, like I used to try to play with them and obviously, like they were too big for me and stuff but like they still let me try to get in. He saw that I was with them. So, he signed me up a little early for organized football and ever since then I just loved it."

"I put the football in his hands when he was like 3 or 4 years old," Gore Sr. said. … He just used to love it. When I would go play out of town, my mom would say he [Gore Jr.], is sitting in front of the TV the whole time when he played away. He would sit down and watch the game like he knew what he was looking at. … He knew what he was doing out there [on the football field] from the jump. … At age 5 or 6 [in little league], he was going crazy out there. It was me and [my agent Drew Rosenhaus]. It was me and Drew going to one of his games. He scored like five times."

Gore Jr. played quarterback for much of his childhood before switching to running back, of course, as well as cornerback. By the time high school came around for him, Gore Jr.  played exclusively on offense as both a running back and wide receiver. Gore Jr. had Gore Sr.'s high school coach at Coral Gables, Tim Neal, as a sophomore, but then he finished up the final two seasons of his prep career at Killian High School in Miami after Neal moved there from Coral Gables.

"I'm out of town, and they [the high school] had older guys [ahead of Gore Jr.] playing running back, so he was playing slot [wide receiver] and running back," Gore Sr. said. "Coach Neal was like 'man, Frank I'm telling you he got it. He got bro. I'm telling you he's just like you, he got it.' … I was in OTAs [in 2018 with the Miami Dolphins], and his spring game was the first time I had seen him play high school ball because I had been gone. I go to the game nervous like a motherfu----. I just don't know what to expect. First carry he went for like 60 yards. He had a big game. He was killing it. Coach Neal wasn't lying."

As a senior, he played quarterback despite knowing running back was where his future was because wanted to "just help the team." They went 9-3 in 2019 with Gore Jr. totaling 1,390 yards (1,111 rushing, 213 passing and 66 receiving) while scoring 16 touchdowns (13 rushing, two passing and one receiving) and throwing only one interception as a senior.  

That production had him on Lane Kiffin's Florida Atlantic radar, which was where Gore Jr., a three-star recruit, initially committed to play college football. Once Kiffin departed for Ole Miss, he ended up not too far away from his once-future college head coach in Hattiesburg at Southern Mississippi.

"Southern Miss always recruited me," Gore Jr. said. "I was more comfortable putting my future in their hands rather than just going to a staff I didn't really know."

Each year resulted in steady, statistical improvement. The crescendo came his junior year in 2022 when he ran for a career-high 1,382 rushing yards on 228 carries, averaging a career-high 6.1 yards per carry. 

"I say I got better every year, worked hard every offseason," Gore Jr. said. "Just took baby steps and that also got me here, so I'll just say I just came to work every day, knew what I needed to get better on and also got better on the things I was even good at. So I just tried to come with  an open mind every day."

Gore Jr.'s best game that year was historic, like Gore Sr.'s NFL career. Junior erupted for an FBS bowl game record 329 rushing yards on 21 carries (15.7 yards per carry) while finding the end zone three times (two rushing touchdowns and one passing touchdown) in the 2022 LendingTree Bowl, a 38-24 victory over Rice.

"Preparation, and everything had to be right," Gore Jr. said of his 329-yard night. "The O-line blocked that night. Coaches called a good game. Everything played a part in it."

What also played a role in that breakout performance was knowing he needed to put the team on his back. Southern Miss cycled through four different quarterbacks that season because of injuries. 

"It was tough, but I'm strong, I was strong-minded all through it," Gore Jr. said of defenses gearing up to shut him down and the run game down because of the injuries that year. "Just trying to go out there and whoever is back there [at QB], try to support them. Try to be a guy that can help them out and try to be someone who the team always could look at, always being stable."

"I told him this: 'I know that you're playing at a small school, but football is football,' Gore Sr. said. "What he had to deal with [the consistent college quarterback instability], a lot of guys don't deal with.' I'm not trying to downtalk his teammates because the game of football is hard. What he had to deal with -- different quarterbacks, offensive linemen being in and out, not winning [Southern Miss went 16-31 in Gore Jr.'s four seasons from 2020-2023] and probably being the best player on the team -- when he had to come play on Saturday, they [opponents], came to stop him. So, he had to work for everything. I told him 'God willing you'll be blessed to play at the next level, you'll understand it'll get better because you'll be around better guys, you'll have a quarterback hopefully, so things won't be as hard.'"

Watching other running backs around the country not have to work as hard to achieve similar or better numbers was tough for Gore Jr., but Gore Sr. views his time at Southern Miss as a blessing because the experience required his son to dig deeper to find higher levels of individual performance.

"'What you're dealing with, it will help you in the league [the NFL],'" Gore Sr. told Gore Jr. "Because in the league, holes won't be wide open like that. In the league you have to create, and I said [to him], 'your game is all about creating. That is going to help you in the league if you're blessed to get there.'"

Stability was one of Gore Sr.'s career-defining traits as a pro: his 12 seasons with 800 or more rushing yards rank as the second-most in NFL history behind only the league's all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith and his 14 such seasons. Gore Jr.'s nine career seasons with 1,000 or more rushing yards rank as the fifth-most such seasons in NFL history.

"I just take notes from him [Gore Sr.], see how he took care of his body," Gore Jr. said. "See how hard he worked, see how much time he put in during the offseason. So I just try to take everything from him."

Thanks to his father, Gore Jr. has been on the workout plan that allowed Gore Sr. to play 16 NFL seasons at running back, one of the league's most physically–taxing positions, since he was about 16 years-old. Gore Jr. has essentially been preparing his body like an NFL player for years. 

"I've been following him since I was in 10th grade, in high school," Gore Jr. said. "So I stay with the same routine. Two-a-days [of lifting], hours of treatment. A lot of rest time too. It's a common ground volume. Not too much work, not too much rest… I'll try to let them [NFL teams] know that I've been a pro for awhile. "

When he arrived at college, Gore Jr. wasn't one of the freshman players throwing up or gasping for air when it came time to dive into Southern Miss' strength and conditioning program.

"I'm not surprised by much," Gore Jr. said of his workouts. 

"I showed him the rules," Gore Sr. said. 

Gore Jr. measured out at 5 feet 8 inches tall while weighing 201 pounds at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine while his dad was listed as a slightly bigger back at the 2005 combine, per NFLCombineResults.com: 5-foot-9, 217 pounds. 

An MVP-caliber performance

It's one thing for NFL scouts to see Gore Jr. dominate Rice and schools in Conference USA and the Sun Belt Conference. It's another for them to see what he did against other established 2024 NFL Draft prospects in the 2024 East-West Shrine Bowl game back in February. Gore Jr. created the game's most electrifying run on a 49-yard sprint to the end zone on an inside zone run where both the A and B-gaps were sealed off. He immediately bounced outside and went pedal to the metal from there. 

"I saw they got a little penetration front side, so I bounced back," Gore Jr. said postgame. "I saw a little gap and I did everything I could … and once I got past one, I just had to [use] my speed. … I know there's a lot of questions about me because I'm from a small school, so I had a chip on my shoulder to come in and sort of prove to everyone that I belonged."

"He got great vision," Gore Sr. said. "I think our games are similar, but I'll say he got more open field, make you miss in the open field [ability]. As long as he keeps working, someone will call his name. Whoever takes that chance on him, he's like me. He'll let people know they made the right decision. I raised him and let him know that he can't take anything for granted."

Gore Jr.'s 87 rushing yards on six carries led to him being named the game's offensive MVP. 

I showed that I'm a playmaker," Gore Jr. said. "Great vision, great feet, all the things that I put on my college film that I could do it among the best."

"At the East-West Shrine Bowl, he was like 'dang Dad. I could anticipate and see the holes before they happened,'" Gore Sr. said. "That was because everyone knew what they were doing. It was easier than what he was dealing with in college. I had been telling him that. I', not trying to knock his guys…, but what he had to deal with in college will help him at the next level."

Despite his big night, Gore Jr. didn't get to accompany Gore Sr., who is now a football personnel adviser with the San Francisco 49ers (his team of 10 seasons from 2005-2014), to Super Bowl LVIII. The reason he wasn't with his dad at Allegiant Stadium was clear to Gore Sr.

"He has to train," Gore Sr. said. 

When Gore Jr. did his postgame media availability on the field at The Ford Center, his father was standing just off in the distance, smiling with his son's MVP trophy held under his arm not unlike a football. The next stop in his draft process is his Southern Miss Pro Day on Monday and private workouts leading up to the 2024 NFL Draft at the end of April. 

"Don't take it for granted," Gore Jr. said his father's biggest piece of advice was when it came to his pre-draft process. "Come every day. It's a long process. Everyone has been telling me, not just my dad, your rookie year is your longest year. So just not taking it for granted and not get annoyed with it. I just try to come every day and just keep working."

When Gore Jr. does hear his name called, no one will be more proud than his dad.

"He needs to keep working, and keep checking boxes," Gore Sr. said. "At the end of the day, when it's draft day, we'll pray as a family, and hopefully his name gets called. So far, he's been working his heart off, and I've been a proud, proud father. … I don't really care what team calls. I know how the process is. I just want whoever feels he is worth the pick to take him."

What Gore Jr. wants the NFL to know about him has nothing to do with football but rather his intangibles. 

"A hard worker," Gore Jr. said when asked what the league's 32 teams are getting with him. "A kid who loves the game. A great person who loves to work, loves to be around his teammates and a dynamic player. That's the last point for me. I want to show them [NFL teams] how good of a person I am and how hard I work. Things like that."

Once he does get his professional football opportunity, Gore Jr. is most excited about showing the name Frank Gore and the unrelenting production associated with it also applies to himself and not just his father. 

"Just knowing who I am," Gore Jr. said when asked what fuels him and how he disregards the pressure of being Frank Gore's son. "That [the doubt] kind of built me into the person I am today. Having that chip on my shoulder. Always knowing that people doubted me and people are still doubting me. I look forward to proving people wrong and proving people right, the ones that believed in me [like Gore Sr.]. Proving them right as well."