It was February of 2010, and running back Jakhari Gore had just signed to play at LSU in America’s best football conference, the Southeastern.
The cousin of a star NFL running back, Gore seemed to be on his way, and his high school coach, Miami Columbus’ Chris Merritt, talked about LSU being the perfect “fit.”
Three years later, LSU is but a memory for Gore, 21, who played just two games for the Tigers, gaining 25yards on eight carries.
“The reason I decided to leave was the depth of the running backs there,” he said. “Their [running backs] are 210 and 230 [pounds]. I’m a scamper guy who needs an offense that has speed where I can create things.”
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Gore, listed at 5-10 and 175 pounds, said he realized he had made a mistake when he got to Baton Rouge, La.
“Once I saw the offense [up close], I told myself I didn’t really fit the system anymore,” he said. “And I made the decision to come back home to FIU.”
He’s very close with San Francisco 49ers star Frank Gore — their mothers are sisters — but that doesn’t buy him any favor with the Panthers’ new coaching staff.
Gore, a fourth-year junior, is behind established starter Kedrick Rhodes, a senior, on the FIU depth chart. Gore will also have to battle sophomores Shane Coleman and Lamarq Caldwell and senior Orwin Etkins for the backup job.
FIU coach Ron Turner has said that it is too early to really know about any of his players — Tuesday was just the second padded practice of the spring — but the former NFL assistant has noticed some of Gore’s attributes.
“He has some ability,” said Turner, who will call the team’s offensive plays. “He is quick, has good hands and explosiveness. He has a chance.”
Coming out of high school, where he rushed for 4,666 yards and 64 touchdowns, it seemed like Gore had more than just a chance. It seemed like a sure thing for someone who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds.
An ESPN.com story about Gore from 2009 had the headline: “LSU lands its home run threat.”
Those home runs never came, though. He rarely got a turn at-bat, and he was reduced to being an observer, and what he saw was wild.
“There were like 90,000 fans at every game,” he said. “And there were another 20,000 outside the stadium.”
There won’t be 90,000 at FIU’s games. There might not even be 20,000. And Conference USA won’t be mistaken for the mighty SEC.
But none of that concerns FIU running backs coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker.
“With Gore, I see a lot of talent,” Hayes-Stoker said. “I also see a young guy who needs to mature — not just in the weight room but how you embrace the game.”
Asked if Gore has been deficient in maturity, Hayes Stoker replied that “every guy at this level is deficient in maturity at some point.”
The coach said he anticipates that Gore will “get it,” and added that he likes the running back’s agility and ability to make defenders miss, even in tight space.
Hayes-Stoker said he is not concerned about Gore’s size and wants to use his playmaking skills.
“I like him as a returner as well,” the coach said. “He makes really good decisions there. He’s gutsy, and he’s looking to hit a home run all the time.
“He has shown a willingness to pass block. Is he an every-down pounder? I don’t know that he’s that guy. But that’s not who we want him to be. We want him to be who he is, and it’s up to us to put him in position to make plays.”