In just one game, San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert went from an obscure player to the next big thing on a Super Bowl contender.
The 27-year-old spent his career up to that point bouncing between teams. An unbelievable six NFL organizations gave Mostert a shot, saw what he was capable of, and moved on.
Then, at a crucial moment for the 49ers, Mostert became an instant hero to SF fans. Here’s how Mostert put himself in the position to finally shine.
How Raheem Mostert overcame a grisly childhood accident
Mostert spent his childhood moving around the Daytona Beach area, mainly to avoid gang hotspots. Fear of violence led Mostert’s guardian to buy a gun for self-defense.
Instead, the firearm brought violence into the home. Mostert, a toddler, found the weapon. While playing with it, he shot himself in the foot.
It was the first sign that Mostert’s path to professional sports would be a difficult one. He lost a portion of his toe, altering his stride, and stunting his growth.
By the time Raheem Mostert was seven years old, he had recovered enough to play youth football. It was clearly his calling.
How a solid college player went undrafted in the NFL
Interestingly, it was Raheem Mostert’s speed that made him so alluring to coaches at Purdue. Losing a piece of a toe and re-learning how to run properly? Apparently, not enough to slow him down.
He joined Purdue’s track and field team in his junior year to further develop his already elite speed. He started shaky, having stuck to football applications for his running ability. But once he refined his stride, keenly taking in instruction from his new coaches, he became a threat on the track. He was so fast, only the lightning bolt known as Tyreek Hill was a faster NCAA football player.
At first, Purdue used Mostert as a wide receiver. Then, they experimented with putting him on man-to-man defensive assignments. He wasn’t a great fit for either position. Running back was his calling.
In his senior year, Mostert had 93 carries for 529 yards. It was enough to have NFL teams looking to shore up their special teams squads sniffing around.
Six teams, six cuts for Raheem Mostert
The NFL took a long look at Raheem Mostert. They collectively said, “pass.” He went undrafted in 2015.
The Philadelphia Eagles tried him out first. He had a strong pre-season showing: 57 rushing yards and 191 receiving yards. That should’ve earned him a spot, but there simply wasn’t room when the roster got cut down to 53.
The Miami Dolphins plucked Mostert off the Eagles’ practice squad. They released him by Week 2 of the 2015 season.
The Baltimore Ravens swooped in to give Mostert a paycheck. Two months later, he was cut to make room for players returning from injury.
Then Cleveland Browns gave Mostert a try in December 2015. He was their starting kick returner for three games. The following year, the Browns booted Mostert to make room for newer picks off waivers.
The Jets took advantage of this talented but ignored special teams player. They put him on their practice squad in September 2016. Six days later, they decided on a sudden overhaul and sent four special teams guys packing. Which, of course, included Mostert.
The Chicago Bears were next in line. Raheem Mostert played two games, got bumped to the practice squad, and found himself released yet again in November 2016.
Finally, the San Francisco 49ers came calling. They put him in for the 2016 regular-season finale against the Seattle Seahawks. Mostert spent much of 2017 on the injury list, but San Francisco stuck by him. When he was healthy, the 49ers leaned on him more and more.
In 2019, Mostert finally enjoyed a vote of confidence in his talents: a three-year contract to stay in San Francisco. He took it. And in the second biggest game of the year, he made his case for why he should’ve been taken more seriously by the NFL in the first place.
From falling through the cracks to instant stardom
Head coach Kyle Shanahan was going to lean on Raheem Mostert in a big moment. That much was known headng into the 2020 NFC Championship game. A healthy Mostert was a blazingly fast running back capable of executing anything within his skillset with great attention to detail. Why not use him?
What Shanahan and Mostert didn’t know was just how much leaning would be required. Starting running back Tevin Coleman left the game with an injury in the second quarter. It’d be Mostert at number one the rest of the way through.
He didn’t just take to the challenge. He blew a smoking hole through the challenge. With 220 rushing yards on 29 carries, Mostert set a postseason rushing record. All-time.
Raheem Mostert went from limping on half a toe to being passed around between six teams to being the record-setting breakout star on a team headed to the Super Bowl for their very next game. That’s a long, winding road to the biggest event in American sports.