CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Three little letters have been tattooed on Frank Gore's right forearm for 10 years, and they have nothing to do with football, fame or flaunting his own name. The ink means so much more to the Miami running back.
When he was just 10, Gore had an older cousin etch his mother's name, "Liz," into his arm. He chose her name because he thought she would be less likely to punish him for it.
"I still got in trouble," he said.
Nonetheless, he doesn't regret the decision. After all, for as long as he can remember, Liz Gore has been everything to him -- mother, father, tutor, coach, cheerleader, chaplain and confidant.
Now Gore is ready to give something back.
"I've been waiting for this day for a long time," Gore said. "I'm ready."
Gore is ready to return to form after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee 18 months ago and sitting out all of last season. He is ready to prove to doubters that he deserves the comparisons to Barry Sanders and ready to back up statements from coaches that he is the best running back to every play at Miami. Better than Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee.
"Frank is better than any of them," said running backs coach Don Soldinger.
But more than anything, Gore is ready to give back to his mother -- who raised three children with little help, often ran up and down the sidelines of her son's peewee football games cheering and coaching, helped him overcome a learning disability and get into college, and spent the last seven years battling kidney disease.
Gore knows that one strong season in one of the nation's most prolific offenses could land him -- and his mother -- NFL riches.
"I really want to help my mom a lot," said Gore, who grew up in a one-bedroom apartment with seven others.
Gore's mother started undergoing kidney dialysis about the same time he enrolled at Coral Gables High School in 1997. Her health problems often resulted in hospital stays that forced him to stay home with his two younger siblings.
That made it even tougher for Gore to overcome a learning disability that affects his comprehension of written material. In his first year of high school, he was reading at a third-grade level.
Because of the disability, the school enrolled Gore in a program that would have earned him a certificate of completion -- virtually worthless to college admission offices.
Gore had been going to classes for children with special needs since being diagnosed with the disability in third grade. But once he got to high school, he sought more of a challenge and -- backed mostly by his mother -- was given more demanding assignments.
He studied with a tutor several hours a day, spent evenings getting help from mom, and went to summer school every year. When Gore graduated with a B average, his reading skills were at a 10th-grade level. He also later earned a qualifying score on his college entrance exam.
By then, several schools had backed off scholarship offers -- even though Gore ran for 2,953 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior. Many coaches figured he wouldn't qualify academically.
"A lot of people said I wasn't going to make it because they felt like I wasn't smart enough," Gore said. "I wanted to prove them wrong."
Coach Larry Coker never withdrew his invitation, and it might turn out to be his best decision since taking over at Miami.
As a true freshman in 2001, Gore ran for 562 yards, averaged 9.1 yards a carry and moved ahead of McGahee on the depth chart. He also continued to improve his reading skills in the classroom, but his abilities on the field were much more noticeable. Defenders couldn't stop him, Miami fans wanted more of him and opposing coaches called him the most explosive player on the field.
Coker often compared him to Barry Sanders, whose slashing style Coker witnessed while coaching at Oklahoma State.
"Frank Gore had a phenomenal freshman year," Coker said. "When I watched him practice I was surprised anybody in high school could tackle him. And he looks like that again now. He's ready to play and I think he'll have a great year for us. He certainly has great potential."
Gore would have been the starter last season, a year in which McGahee gained a school-record 1,753 yards and led the Hurricanes back to the national title game.
But the knee injury left Gore watching and waiting from the sidelines -- fighting bouts of depression and feeling as if he could have put up numbers similar to McGahee.
"There were moments that you think you'll never get better, you'll never get back on the field, you'll never be able to run again," he said.
At those times, he would turn to his mother -- or maybe just look at her name tattooed on his arm -- and quickly realize that his chance would come.
Now it has.
"I'm going to keep fighting," he said. "I'm not a kid that always had a lot. It's been very tough. I've had to worry about my mom, my family, about school and my injury. It wasn't easy. I just have to keep fighting to get there."
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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