By Jonathan Okanes
DeSean Jackson is considered a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy, but Cal's wide receiver has a nickname for teammate Jahvid Best, the freshman running back who has inspired comparisons to a former winner of college football's most prestigious award. "I call him `Little Bush'," Jackson said. Best has been a college football player for only 2 1/2 weeks, so it seems premature to liken him to former USC star Reggie Bush, who won the Heisman in a landslide in 2005. But there's no question the former standout at Vallejo's Salesian High School has created quite a buzz during training camp. Best arguably has been the Bears' most exciting running back, demonstrating explosiveness, quick lateral movement and jaw-dropping speed. Senior Justin Forsett is Cal's undisputed starter, but it's apparent the Bears will find ways to get Best on the field. "Two words come to mind - Reggie Bush," junior linebacker Zack Follett said. "I'm glad he's on our team and I'm glad we got him. He's definitely a special talent. I know he's not redshirting with the skills he has."
Coach Jeff Tedford has yet to announce which freshmen will play this season, but he said this week that Best is "most likely going to be in the plans." Best might not get many carries this season but could become a force on special teams. "He will be one of the kick returners," Tedford said. "On other special teams, anything where you need speed, getting down there and making something happen, he can do a good job." Best came to Cal as one of the most sought-after running backs in the country - he turned down an offer from USC - despite playing at a small high school. Best has blazing speed - he won this year's California Interscholastic Federation state championship in the 100-meter dash in 10.31 seconds - and put up huge numbers in football, rushing for 3,224 yards and 40 touchdowns as a senior. Best, 5-foot-11 and 182 pounds, must now show that he can produce at the Division I level. If training camp is any indication, he will. "The game is a lot faster," Best said. "When I first got here, the first couple of plays, everything was blurry. Everybody was moving so fast, I didn't know what was happening. Once you settle in and get a couple more reps and a little bit of experience, it starts to slow down and you see what's happening."
Jackson's Heisman candidacy is predicated on the combination of his receiving skills and productivity as a punt returner. With kickoffs being moved back to the 30-yard line this season, the Bears are considering using Jackson as a kick returner as well. But Best provides an intriguing alternative in that position, and it gives Tedford a way to get him on the field with Forsett and redshirt freshman James Montgomery expected to assume most of the workload at running back. "I just expected to come in here and play as hard as I can," Best said. "If I play as hard as I can, then I'm going to put myself in a position to help the team." Best relies on his instincts to try to make things happen. His athletic moves often lead to a big play, and he isn't hesitant to reverse field. "You cannot put a leash on him," Tedford said. "You do not want to over-coach that guy because he does have great instincts and when he does reverse field, he has the ability to make something happen." Jackson once ran a 10.6 in the 100 at Long Beach Poly. But Cal quarterback Nate Longshore doesn't flinch when asked who would win a race between Jackson and Best. "Oh, Jahvid," he says definitively.