By Dave Curtis
Amid preseason talked dominated by quarterbacks and preseason polls focused on the South, star tailback Jahvid Best and the Cal Bears have emerged as potential factors on the national scene. Best, a junior and Cal's top offensive player, averaged 8.1 yards per carry last year and earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors. Best spoke with Sporting News' Dave Curtis about his play and his team's outlook for 2009.
Q: First up, what's the story behind your first name? Why Jahvid?
A: My dad pretty much made it up. The first part, the "Jah," that's Caribbean, where my dad's from. It means, "almighty one," like a religious one or something like that. And the second part comes from his name, David. He just combined the two.
Q: You ever catch any heat for having kind of a funky name?
A: Not really. Honestly, I didn't know what it meant until later on. I got to high school, and I started asking around, and then I thought it was pretty cool. Until high school, it was just my name. Nobody said anything.
Q: How did you end up a running back?
A: The first time I played football was my freshman year in high school. I had just never tried it until then. I was a running back and a safety and a little bit of wide receiver. But running back looked like a lot of fun because they got the ball most. We didn't really have a great quarterback on our team, so even though I wanted to play receiver, I figured it would be hard for me to get the ball. So running back was it.
Q: Which running backs did you love to watch as a young guy?
A: The one guy I really modeled my game after in high school was Reggie Bush. I used to watch USC play on Saturdays. Sometimes, I'd even record the games and watch them during the week. I just watched how he ran and tried to mimic that in my games.
Q: Bush won a Heisman. You think you've got a chance at that, or maybe the Doak Walker Award (best running back)?
A: I don't know. I feel honored to be in that category. To me, the best back in the country is the back that keeps his team winning. You have to have the stats, too, but it's more than that. It's going to take a great offensive line, and I think we have that this year.
Q: How about the Heisman?
A: There's been a little bit of a buzz around me, but nothing I'm too worried about right now. It's the same thing. If we keep winning, my chances to win some of those things are going to go way up.
Q: What about your team? Why do you guys feel like you can compete with USC and Oregon this year?
A: For us, it's no different than any other year. We always feel that way. But it's bigger than just USC. The past couple of years, there's always a team that beats USC, but then that team goes and loses some games. You do have to beat them, but this conference is bigger than just one team.
Q: So why can you guys win the Pac-10?
A: We've got a lot of confidence in each other after the way we played some of our games last year. We have a lot of guys coming back, we had a great offseason and the focus is going to be there when we start camp.
Q: How about Kevin Riley at quarterback? What does the rest of the team think of him as probably the No. 1 guy?
A: All the guys believe that he can get in done for us. We all believe in him. He really stepped up his game during the spring. I'm really looking forward to camp and seeing him and how much better he's gotten. We need him if we want to have a big year.
Q: Break down your strengths and weaknesses as a back.
A: I'd definitely say my strength is my speed. My most underrated thing is probably my toughness. I've battled through a lot of injuries through my college career and tried to just keep playing and keep fighting. Weakness, I'd say probably my strength. There are a lot of backs you watch who can run through tackles, take a hit and stay on their feet and keep coming. That's just not part of my game.
Q: What about the next level? Any thought yet of leaving school after this season?
A: Right now, I haven't given it much. I'm just trying to play through this season and focus on winning. That's for after the season. Really, right now, I have no clue what I'm going to do.