Santa Clara, Calif. — They already knew about him 250 miles north of Super Bowl LIV, knew about the speed, the elusiveness, the eye-arresting skill set.
But for everyone else, the explosiveness of his game was symbolized best by the way Raheem Mostert seemed to burst into the NFL last week — on a stage as large as the NFC title game, no less — impossibly still unknown in a league that otherwise is fully mic’d up, backstage-accessed and Instagram-driven.
“The world finally got to see how talented he really is,” Lance Jenkins said. “I’m proud of him. The entire city is proud of him. We’re all proud of Raheem around here.”
Jenkins coached Mostert in high school in New Smyrna Beach, a town that sits on Florida’s central east coast and is known mostly for its surfing and shark bites.
On Sunday, Mostert and his San Francisco teammates will play Kansas City in Miami, not quite four hours down Interstate 95, for the NFL championship.
The 49ers flew into South Florida this weekend. But they traveled there on Mostert’s legs.
He rushed 29 times for 220 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-20 NFC championship game victory over Green Bay on Jan. 19.
Along the way, Mostert set numerous franchise and NFL records and, even more impressively and unlikely, established himself as a legitimate sudden sensation.
Before trampling the Packers, he had one career 100-yard rushing performance — on Dec. 1 in a Week 13 loss at Baltimore.
Mostert had one carry after two NFL seasons and then only six more in his third year in the league.
During four seasons at Purdue, he rushed for 759 yards and six touchdowns.
“Everyone in this room roots for Raheem,” 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “He just needed someone to believe in him, and he found that here.”
Mostert, 27, has been with the 49ers since November of 2016, playing mostly special teams while patiently awaiting the shot he finally received this season.
But then, patience has been as much a part of Mostert’s story as the blurring swiftness with which he’s blessed.
Before joining San Francisco, he spent time with Philadelphia, Miami, Baltimore, Cleveland, the New York Jets and Chicago.
Each of those teams cut him, some more than once.
Mostert is a veteran of five practice squads, a player who bloomed so late in high school that he had no scholarship offers until after Thanksgiving of his senior year and who began this season as the 49ers’ fourth-string running back.
Back in New Smyrna Beach, Mostert’s former high school coach recalled the kid who returned nine kickoffs for touchdowns as a senior, could bench press 300 pounds and had an attitude just as impressive.
“It’s an inspiration to not only athletes but all people, guys who are in business struggling and everything else you can think of,” Jenkins said. “We’ve all had our setbacks. But not everyone can overcome everything like Raheem has. He’s an amazing story.”
Super Bowl LIV
San Francisco vs. Kansas City
Kickoff: 6:30 Sunday, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami
Line: Kansas City by 1