When he was a high school running back in Vallejo, Calif., Jahvid Best had his father, David, record every USC game so he could study each ankle-breaking cut and spin by his idol, Trojans star Reggie Bush. "I'd watch [Bush] do something," says Best, "and then I'd try to do it the next week in my game. I've modeled my game after his."
Best, an undersized speedster known for breathtaking bursts through the line and jaw-dropping jukes, has come so close to nailing his Bush impersonation, he might be wise to start studying his idol's 2005 Heisman Trophy acceptance speech. In what is supposed to be the Year of the Quarterback, Cal's junior running back is poised to steal the show. The nation's leading returning rusher—in his first year as a starter he averaged 8.1 yards a carry while piling up 1,580 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns—Best is not only a dark-horse Heisman contender but also college football's most electric running back since, well, Reggie Bush.
"They're very similar," Bears coach Jeff Tedford says of Best and Bush. "You can put them in positions all over the field. They run hard, they run fast, and boy, they're fun to watch."
Ask his coaches and teammates for their favorite Jahvid the Jet moment, and you won't get a duplicate answer. Was it when he faked out a poor Washington State safety with a shoulder shimmy during an 80-yard dash on the game's opening play? Or perhaps the time he juked past a Michigan State defender and stiff-armed another to the ground on his way to a first down? "There was the reverse he took against UCLA [last October]," says Tedford. "He jumped over one guy, stopped dead in his tracks as another flew by, then just blew by the rest."
An elite sprinter at Salesian High—he won the 2007 state championship in the 100 meters with a time of 10.31—Best, who quit track for good after a hip injury during his freshman year at Cal, still wonders what would have been if he had kept up with his true passion. ("I can't even go to meets," says Best, who, in wanting to stay close to home, chose Cal over USC and Oregon. "It's too painful.") His speed makes him a game-breaker on the football field (six touchdowns of 60 or more yards in '08), but his durability and power remain question marks. At 5'10" he's two inches shorter than even Bush, and he's coming off surgeries on his left foot and left elbow, which caused him to miss spring practice.
Cal, a popular sleeper pick in the Pac-10, will need Best at his best to reach its first Rose Bowl since the '58 season. To improve his strength, Best bulked up 10 pounds over the off-season. "I was 180 pounds when I ran the 10.31," he says. "Now I'm 200 pounds and I feel faster—and definitely more explosive."
Consider that a warning to the rest of the Pac-10, and a message to all the Heisman oddsmakers out there.
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