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Daniel Kilgore Eyes First Start of 2015 Season in Week 15

"Just be patient," they said. "Your time will come."

Sure enough, Daniel Kilgore's opportunity did come.

After three seasons of biding his time, the San Francisco 49ers fifth-round pick in 2011 earned the starting center job at the beginning of the 2014 season.

"I stayed humble with it," Kilgore remembered. "Finally I got my time, and I was playing at a pretty high level."

Kilgore's first season as a starter, however, was cut short. Seven games into the year, San Francisco's center broke his leg in Denver against the Broncos. Kilgore moved to the Injured Reserve List and spent the subsequent 12 months rehabbing his way back to health.

"It's been pretty crazy," the lineman said. "The injury threw things for a twist last October. Finishing the year on IR was tough since it was my first year as a starter at center."

Kilgore's wedding provided the silver lining to a year that featured two separate surgeries and countless hours of physical therapy. He joked that, "not everything went to plan," but he wasn't deterred.

Part of Kilgore's perseverance was derived from San Francisco's star linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who had already been rehabbing his injured knee for 10 months when the center went down.

"I definitely learned a lot from NaVorro through his experience and how he handled himself day in and day out," Kilgore said. "He came to work with a pro attitude and was always looking to get better. I fed off of his energy and what he brought to work every day throughout his injury. It helped me throughout the process."

As soon as Kilgore was able, the center returned to the team facility to be around his teammates. The lineman sat in meetings, attended practices and travelled occasional road games.

Despite missing the first 11 games of the 2015 season, Kilgore was never a stranger in the 49ers locker room.

"As much as I could, I was around the guys," he said. "That's what you miss the most when you're not around the game is not being in a locker room," Kilgore said.

On Monday Nov. 16 2015, the 49ers opened Kilgore's three-week practice window, giving the team 21 days to activate the lineman or place him on IR for the second straight season. The center spoke with the media on multiple occasions during that stretch.

Each time, Kilgore sounded confident that his surgically-repaired leg was ready for the demands of game action. Although that sentiment wasn't invalid, the lineman admitted that he didn't know for sure until he took the field on a Sunday.

"You tell yourself you're ready to go, but you really don't understand, or know how you're going to feel until you actually get out there and test it in a game environment," Kilgore said.

The 27-year-old lineman made his return to gameday in Week 13 against the Chicago Bears. In his season debut, Kilgore played all six of his snaps at tight end due to an injury to Garrett Celek.

The following week, Kilgore played 42 snaps at center in a 24-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Although the score was disappointing on a team level, Kilgore called the game a "little victory" for himself. With left guard Alex Boone nursing a knee injury, it appears that Kilgore is in line to make his first start of the season in Week 15 against the Cincinnati Bengals. 

"That was big for me in being able to trust my leg," Kilgore said. "Going into this week, starting at the center spot, I have the confidence of going out there and doing it."

Kilgore now gets the benefit of watching his personal ups and downs on film. The center hopes to improve in the team's final three games in order to gain some momentum going into the offseason.

"That was the goal coming back in the first place, was to have something to build on for the offseason," Kilgore said. "Getting out there and getting game reps is huge to see where I'm at. Being able to get better each week and seeing what I need to improve on is huge."

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