Cal running back Jahvid Best is coming off a fantastic sophomore season and is perhaps the top running back Heisman candidate for 2009. He is the nation’s leading returning rusher after blazing his way to 1,580 yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging a phenomenal 8.14 yards per carry (he missed a game or two due to injury). He was an amazing track athlete in high school with career bests of 10.31 in the 100 meters and 20.65 in the 200 meters and he has been able to carry over his speed onto the gridiron. He’s a humble, low-key guy who is very team-oriented, a rare thing nowadays. I sat down with him at Pac-10 media day and conducted the following Q&A session:
Q: First off, you had some injuries last year that caused you to miss a couple games. What are you doing now to get more durable and are you worried that it could affect your speed and explosiveness?
A: I’ve been trying to get bigger. But I’ve been really cautious about putting on weight. I’ve been very careful about it. I feel like I’ve put on the right weight. I was 180 pounds when I ran a 10.31 in high school. I’m 200 pounds now and I feel faster, definitely more explosive.
Q: What do you think you have to do to win the Heisman?
A: As far as I’m concerned, the people that win the Heisman are on a winning team, so I figure my role is to do the best I can to help my team win. The more we win, the more Heisman attention I’ll get.
Q: What about stats? What kind of season do you have to have?
A: I just need to have a season similar to last season. I feel that would be good enough, but to add a Pac-10 championship would help more. I never really have a yardage goal. The last seven or eight years we’ve had a 1,000-yard rusher at Cal, so I do want to keep that tradition going.
Q: Your backup, Shane Vereen, is a pretty capable runner, too. How does his presence help you?
A: I’m blessed to have a back like Shane Vereen behind me. I do something and that gets him going and then he comes in and does something special and that gets me going. I feed off of him and he feeds off of me. When we’re in there together, it’s just great. We’re great friends after practice, too.
Q: Whose style do you try to emulate as a running back?
A: I try to emulate Reggie (Bush) a lot, but that was mostly when I was in high school. I used to watch film of him in high school and tried to do what he does. I think my game is pretty similar to his. He was an idol of mine when I was growing up.
Q: Given that, was there any thought of following in his footsteps at USC?
A: I’m from the Bay Area and didn’t really want to leave. That’s why I chose Cal, because it was so close to home. I’m a family oriented person, so this way my family can see all the home games.
Q: You had a huge high school career and were one of the fastest players in the country coming out. Yet, your recruitment process was mostly a mystery to those who following recruiting. Why was that?
A: I kind of liked to keep a low profile. I only took two official visits, Cal and Oregon. I took some unofficials to USC a couple times. But I didn’t do the whole big recruiting thing, I kept it simple. And I was so busy running track anyway in the spring, so that was my main focus.
Q: What other current college backs do you enjoy watching?
A: DeMarco Murray of Oklahoma. I like that kid. Joe McKnight, when we’re watching games at the hotel, I look at him. Noel Devine of West Virginia.
Q: I put out an annual list of the fastest players in college football. I have you sixth heading into the season. How would you match up speed-wise with guys like Jeff Demps, Trindon Holliday and C.J. Spiller?
A: I feel like my quickness is up to par with the best of them. I think I could still run a 10.3 if I were running right now. If I had concentrated on track, I’m sure I would’ve gotten a lot faster.
Q: How do you feel about all the media attention you are getting? If Cal has a big year, how is the team prepared to handle it?
A: I’ll be able to handle it. The better we do, the more attention we get. The attention is good for the Pac-10 conference and Cal. It depends on how we take it. If we think we’ve ‘arrived’ as a team, that could be bad for us, but if we take it as a grain of salt, that’ll be good for us.
Q: Do any other running backs give you advice? What do they tell you to work on?
A: Marshawn (Lynch) is always up there and he’s always telling me to keep doing what I’m doing and to keep working hard. Justin Forsett came back into town and he gave me some words of wisdom. The biggest thing I need to work on is pass blocking and running more physical. There are times where I try to make a big play out of something. That’s my style, but there was really nothing there. That’s when I need to use a physical style of running just to get those extra couple yards instead of forcing it.
Q: Being a home run hitter, defenses key on you a lot. What defenses posed the biggest challenges for you last season?
A: Oregon, Maryland and USC probably were the toughest. As far as the level of talent and speed, USC’s guys were slightly more talented, but they were just so good at executing and controlling their gaps. That was what set them apart. It was frustrating, but I have to give them credit for keeping me in check. They controlled the line of scrimmage.
Q: Say it’s game 12 and you are one of the main Heisman candidates with a chance to win it. And then you break a big touchdown run to break the game open. Think you might pull a Desmond Howard and make a Heisman statememt?
A: You’ll never see me strike a Heisman pose.