By Rusty Simmons
Jahvid Best believes that at least one woman in his life has a sixth sense. Every time there's a national report about his roadrunner speed, every time a Cal fan approaches with praise and asks for an autograph and every time he's declared unstoppable by an opposing coach, Best knows a message is on the horizon. "My mom always sends a text at the right time," Best said. "She reminds me of where I came from, reminds me to stay humble and reminds me to keep a level head." Best, a sophomore tailback, went to Salesian High in Richmond, and was humbled last season by a hip injury that he thought threatened his career. He has managed to keep a level head even though he's the most dynamic player in Berkeley.
"I honestly don't know what it is about my play that draws so much attention," Best said. "I'm just playing a game the only way I know how. I guess my speed makes it exciting and I guess I do have the ability to break it open at any time, but I feel like a lot of guys have that." OK, other backs run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, but fewer run the 100-meters in 10.31, the time that Best logged to win the California state championship. Maybe, there are some other backs who had 22 plays that went for at least 50 yards in two high school seasons, but even fewer went for more than 10 yards on 36.8 percent of their touches as a true college freshman. "I tell everyone to come to a practice and watch him," redshirt freshman tailback Shane Vereen said. "His play speaks for itself. There is no verbal explanation of how great he is; you just have to watch him, especially in practice." It is there that Best has answered recent questions: Can he carry the load and become Cal's seventh consecutive 1,000-yard back? Is he truly healthy after last season's hip injury, a bruised femoral head, that cost him three games and spring camp? Yes and yes.
Even when running backs coach Ron Gould pulls Best from a drill, he jumps right back in as soon as his coach turns his head. He's zipping around the field and running over would-be tacklers as if his hip was not a problem. "We knew he was healthy, but we are happy to see him respond the way he has," Gould "He's responded like a champ, running physically, catching the ball without looking over his shoulder and popping up after every hit." Best added nearly 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason and now stands at 5-foot-10 and 193 pounds. Even at a much slighter size, he ran for a Bay Area-record 3,325 yards in his senior year of high school and had games in which his number was called more than 40 times.
Best spent the offseason working out with wideouts Michael Calvin, Nyan Boateng and Jeremy Ross at Acalanes High in Lafayette, because he thought his receiving skills needed work. Best regularly seeks out one-on-one time with Gould to go over blocking schemes. "Jahvid has really started to step it up and is practicing at another level, both mentally and physically," Gould said. "His attention to detail is second to none. You look in his eyes, and there's a different focus. "His speed jumps out at you, but his attention to detail is what is going to pay big dividends down the line. Listen, we know the kid is talented, but he has a tremendous work ethic that is going to make him special." That's high regard coming from Gould, who has tutored six backs to the NFL in the last four years and has had a 1,000-yard rusher in six straight seasons. Marshawn Lynch, now with the Bills, was the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year in 2006, and J.J. Arrington, now with the Cardinals, led the nation with 2,108 yards in 2005. Justin Forsett followed the duo with a 1,546-yard season that earned all-conference honors. Forsett also offered Best words that he's using today. "I definitely feel a lot of pressure because there are years of big shoes to fill, but I'm not going to doubt myself," Best said. "I remember asking (Forsett) how he felt before the Tennessee game, and he said, 'I have confidence in my skills and how I've been coached, so everything else should take care of itself.' "That's the only way to handle all of this."