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Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Coker wants Gore to return

Associated Press

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Frank Gore knows that putting up big numbers in 2005 would greatly enhance his value to NFL teams, result in a higher draft pick and perhaps add many millions to his bank account.

He also knows that one misstep can take the chance at those riches away.

The Miami tailback has already bucked the odds once, by overcoming major ligament damage to both of his knees; shredding the right one cost him all of the 2002 season, then blowing out the left one against West Virginia forced him out of the last eight games in 2003.

Now comes the toughest decision Gore has ever weighed: Does he return to Miami next season stronger, healthier and in a great position to impress NFL scouts, or does he roll the dice by taking whatever money comes his way now and forgo his final season of college eligibility?

"People always tell me that you can't think about it like that," said Gore, who has 865 yards this season. "If I was thinking about getting hurt, I probably would have never played football again after the first injury. You can't have that on your mind."

Gore says he will wait until after Miami's Peach Bowl matchup on New Year's Eve against Florida to make up his mind. Miami coach Larry Coker is lobbying for a return.

"From what I know from professional people, Frank probably is not a high draft choice right now," Coker said. "Another year with Frank being healthier would be a tremendous benefit to him."

Doctors have told Gore that he likely needed two full years to completely recover from the second injury, and he's been slowed by knee pain on a few occasions this season. He ran for only 8 yards in a September victory at Houston, plus managed a combined 73 in the Hurricanes' losses to North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

But he also had flashes of brilliance. He rushed for 195 yards in Miami's win at Virginia, and 124 yards in a victory at Georgia Tech.

"He's right up there with Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis, all the great backs we've had here," offensive lineman Chris Myers said. "I hope he comes back. He'll have an amazing offensive line here next season. But he'll be in the NFL one day either way and he's got to do what's best for him."

There are other extenuating circumstances surrounding Gore's decision.

Gore's mother has suffered from kidney disease for much of the last decade, and the family has limited financial resources. Plus, he's the father of a 2-year-old son and wants to ensure that he can provide for his child's future.

He's on track to graduate in May -- something that people close to Gore consider his greatest achievement, especially considering he read at a third-grade level when he entered high school.

"I'm going to come home after the bowl game and figure it out," Gore said. "I haven't been checking up on it. I know that if I decide to come out, I'll have to work hard to impress the scouts in the combine."

His freshman season certainly was impressive; Gore averaged 9.1 yards a carry, helping Miami win the national championship.

Gore would have been the starter in 2002, the year McGahee gained a school-record 1,753 yards and led the Hurricanes back to the national title game. Instead, Gore spent the year rehabbing, fighting off depression and wondering if his NFL dreams would come true -- then endured all that again last year.

While acknowledging that there are sure to be plenty of great running backs in this year's draft crop, Gore doesn't want having the dream dashed for good -- perhaps indicating which way he's leaning.

"I don't know what I'll do," Gore said. "I'll do what I feel is best for me, my family, and my mom."