Aug. 26, 2008
By Eric Gilmore for CalBears.com
It's been over nine months since Cal tailback Jahvid Best suffered what he thought was just a minor hip injury while blocking as a freshman on a kickoff return against USC.
Best said he was "kind of bummed for a second" but figured he'd miss just a few days of practice then get back to work.
Well, a few days stretched into a few weeks - he missed Cal's final three games - and then a few months. For a time, Best even saw his football career flash before his eyes.
"I took some MRIs and it was worse than I thought it was," Best said Tuesday. "It was kind of shocking.
"The first thing I thought was, `There goes my season.' And then they started talking about other things and I was like, `Am I going to still be able to play next year?' It was kind of a sad moment of my life."
What's a young football player to do with his career in jeopardy? Well, Best said he "prayed a lot and put it in God's hands." He also put in countless hours of rehabilitation as his injured hip bone healed.
When Cal opens its 2008 season Saturday against Michigan State at Memorial Stadium, Best will be in the starting lineup. And it would be hard to find a Bear who's more anxious to play or appreciative of the opportunity than Best.
"I'm real excited," Best said. "I'm anxious. A little bit nervous, but I'm ready."
As far as news goes, it doesn't get much better than that for a Cal team that will open the season with eight new starters on offense. The offense will revolve around Best and his breakaway speed. Cal will use him as a runner, a receiver and even a kick returner. The key is getting the ball in his hands and letting him run.
Last year he averaged 7.6 yards per carry. He scored on a 64-yard run against Colorado State. And in Cal's opener against Tennessee, he debuted with 46 yards on four carries.
"As far as numbers of touches, I don't know," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "It depends on the game and what comes to us. We're not going to force things to him, but obviously it's important to get the ball in his hands. He's a great playmaker."
Even as it became clear during the offseason that Best's hip was healing, he still had concerns. What makes him a special football talent is his exceptional speed. But he knew there was no guarantee that he'd be the same speedster who as a senior at Salesian High School in 2007 won the 100 meters crown at the California State Track and Field Championships, clocking a 10.31.
"That was a big concern for me," Best said. "We had a lot of rehab to go through just to get my strength back the right way and then a lot of stretching to get my flexibility back the right way to make everything piece back together."
Best said he's as fast as ever. Cal center Alex Mack will vouch for that fact.
"We see him in practice, and people who have an angle on him to catch him, they just don't," Mack said. "It's impressive. It's going to be exciting. Hopefully we can open up some holes and get him into some open field where he can really show off that speed."
Best passed a series of physical tests during his comeback. Soon after training camp opened, he proved he and his hip could take a hit.
"For the first couple weeks, it was still in the back of my head," Best said of the injury. "As far as right now, I'm good. It's not even fazing me anymore."
Now his only concern is Michigan State's defense. He said MSU has some speed in its secondary but is primarily an aggressive, physical, "beat down on you" defense.
"Speed is definitely our edge," Best said.
Especially when the ball's in his hands.
After nearly 30 years as a sports writer and columnist for the Contra Costa Times, Eric Gilmore is now a freelance writer and blogger. You can find his latest work at http://bayareasportsbeat.blogspot.com.