When he was a highschool 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 hisidol, Trojans star Reggie Bush. "I'd watch [Bush] do something," saysBest, "and then I'd try to do it the next week in my game. I've modeled mygame after his."
Best, anundersized speedster known for breathtaking bursts through the line andjaw-dropping jukes, has come so close to nailing his Bush impersonation, hemight be wise to start studying his idol's 2005 Heisman Trophy acceptancespeech. In what is supposed to be the Year of the Quarterback, Cal's juniorrunning back is poised to steal the show. The nation's leading returningrusher—in his first year as a starter he averaged 8.1 yards a carry whilepiling up 1,580 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns—Best is not only a dark-horseHeisman contender but also college football's most electric running back since,well, Reggie Bush.
"They're verysimilar," Bears coach Jeff Tedford says of Best and Bush. "You can putthem in positions all over the field. They run hard, they run fast, and boy,they're fun to watch."
Ask his coachesand teammates for their favorite Jahvid the Jet moment, and you won't get aduplicate answer. Was it when he faked out a poor Washington State safety witha shoulder shimmy during an 80-yard dash on the game's opening play? Or perhapsthe time he juked past a Michigan State defender and stiff-armed another to theground on his way to a first down? "There was the reverse he took againstUCLA [last October]," says Tedford. "He jumped over one guy, stoppeddead in his tracks as another flew by, then just blew by the rest."
An elite sprinterat Salesian High—he won the 2007 state championship in the 100 meters with atime of 10.31—Best, who quit track for good after a hip injury during hisfreshman year at Cal, still wonders what would have been if he had kept up withhis true passion. ("I can't even go to meets," says Best, who, inwanting to stay close to home, chose Cal over USC and Oregon. "It's toopainful.") His speed makes him a game-breaker on the football field (sixtouchdowns of 60 or more yards in '08), but his durability and power remainquestion marks. At 5'10" he's two inches shorter than even Bush, and he'scoming off surgeries on his left foot and left elbow, which caused him to missspring practice.
Cal, a popularsleeper pick in the Pac-10, will need Best at his best to reach its first RoseBowl since the '58 season. To improve his strength, Best bulked up 10 poundsover 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 moreexplosive."
Consider that awarning to the rest of the Pac-10, and a message to all the Heisman oddsmakersout there.
Now on SI.com
Look for Stewart Mandel's Mailbag every Wednesday at SI.com/bonus
Like Jahvid Best, these burners can change a game inthe blink of an eye.
RB, Soph., Florida
At the '08 Olympic track and field trials, he set a national high school recordin the 100 meters with a time of 10.01. Demps replaces Percy Harvin as UrbanMeyer's most explosive weapon.
QB, Soph., Baylor
One of the game's fastest quarterbacks, Griffin (below) was the Big 12offensive freshman of the year in '08 and the conference champ in the 400-meterhurdles.
RB, Sr., LSU
The 5'5", 161-pound return specialist once ran the 40 in 4.27 seconds ...wearing hightop basketball shoes. The two-time SEC champ in the 100 will getcarries behind Charles Scott.
MATT A. BROWN/ICON SMI (BEST)
INSTANT OFFENSE The nation's leading returning rusher, Best broke off six TD runs of 60 or more yards in '08.
BOB ROSATO (GRIFFIN)