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Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

49ers DB Jimmie Ward not surprised Frank Gore still going strong at age 37

Sep 18, 2020 at 4:37 PM--

There's probably a number of people who never expected to see New York Jets running back Frank Gore still going strong in the NFL at age 37, but his former teammate Jimmie Ward isn't one of them.

Ward is one of three current 49ers players who were on the roster when Gore was last with the team in 2014, with long snapper Kyle Nelson and cornerback Dontae Johnson being the others. Gore was a model of consistency back then, having rushed for over 1,000 yards in eight of nine seasons going back to 2006, and had just wrapped up a season of 1,106 yards and four touchdowns when he and the 49ers didn't come to terms on a new contract after the 2014 season.

Gore will face off against his former team when the 49ers face the Jets on Sunday, the second time he's done so since parting ways with the 49ers in 2015. Few could have envisioned at that time that Gore and the 49ers would meet again in this manner six seasons down the road, but Ward doesn't seem surprised in the least.

"He's a natural ball player, a Hall of Famer, a great teammate, great guy, great father. He just does all the right things," Ward said during a discussion with reporters on Friday. "When I was here as a rookie, he set the example. He set the standard, so I'm not surprised. Other people may be surprised, but I've just seen him work. I've seen how he takes care of his body. He's just a great role model for younger guys."

Other players on the 49ers don't have the same level of experience with Gore, so they might be a bit more surprised than Ward to see him still plugging away at age 37. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk called Gore "extremely impressive" on Friday, adding that Gore's feat of playing at 37 is one to behold given how many running backs see their playing days come to an end long before then.

"It is not easy to play running back in this league, and especially for that long, so kudos to him," Juszczyk said. "He's got to be taking care of his body. But he's still doing it, man. He still looks great out there. He still looks strong, he looks quick. He looks like he's making great decisions, so he's still a premier back."

Gore has made it clear in the past he still loves the 49ers, and the expectation is he'll eventually retire as a 49er under a one-day contract. For now, however, it's business as usual. With lead back Le'Veon Bell on the shelf due to a hamstring injury, Gore is expected to get more work against the 49ers this week after rushing for 24 yards on six carries in a 27-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 1. He says it doesn't matter who he's facing this week, he just wants to get back in the win column.

"I want to win, especially us coming off a loss last week," Gore told reporters on Wednesday. "I want us to look a lot better than last week as an offensive team and do whatever it takes to win. It could be the 49ers, it could be Seattle. I just want a win."

Gore came out on top the last time he faced the 49ers (a 26-23 overtime win in 2017 while he was with the Indianapolis Colts), but his challenge may be a bit tougher this time around. The 49ers defense he faced back then was young and part of a losing team, while this year's group led them to a spot in the Super Bowl last season.

"They're well-coached," Gore said. "You can see why they went to the Super Bowl last year... but I feel like it's still about us. I feel like as long as we go out, work together, be one, believe in each other, and whenever our number gets called make the play and stay on the field, I think we'll be fine. But you can see when you watch the tape, you can see why they were good."

The 49ers and Jets kick off at 10 a.m. PDT from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. It may prove to be the last time the 49ers get the chance to face Gore, but given what he's accomplished to this point, one can never say never on that front.

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