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August 27, 2008When it's all said and done this season, Cal running back Jahvid Best might indeed prove himself to be the premier offensive play-maker in the Pac-10 conference. To do that though, the redshirt sophomore needs to stay on the field. After sitting out the final three games of last year with a somewhat serious hip injury that the coaching staff monitored with gazing eyes, the speedster is back to full speed and said he has not felt any ill-effects taking hits to that hip all off-season. Now, Best finally gets show off his skill-set to a national audience once again, when the Bears kick off their season 5 p.m. Saturday evening against Michigan State.
If the Vallejo native had his way, not only would he carry the ball this season, but he'll still be playing on special teams as well.
"If I had my choice I'd still be playing gunner too," said Best, who recorded a special teams high 12 tackles and a fumble recovery last season. "I want to do all of it."
No worries though, Best will see plenty of time in the backfield.
Head coach Jeff Tedford has went on record to say he expects to give Best 20-25 touches this season, which will obviously only add to the potentially potent Bears offense. In limited touches last year, the 5-foot-10 world-class sprinter put up lofty statistical averages.
Best rushed for 221 yards on just 29 carries (a gleaming 7.6 yards per carry) and caught 13 balls out of the backfield for 74 yards and a touchdown. Best also boasted a stellar 27-yard kick return average as well.
From his reps in Fall Camp, Best will carry the ball out of the backfield, catch the ball in the flat and line up at wide receiver. Best will also continue to return kick offs.
In other words, expect a lot of Best a lot of the time.
"I have to learn the complete offense because I never know where I'm going to be on a certain play," Best said. "I'm just excited about it and anyway I can help my team I'm ready to do it."
Since the '07 season ended after Cal's feel-good 42-36 victory over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, the biggest question surrounding the program - outside of the quarterback competition - was the health of Best's hip. The talented athlete went down in the second half of the Bears' loss to USC in late-November and Tedford took precaution by sitting Best the rest of the season.
Best rolled through summer workouts injury-free however and despite sitting out a handful of practices during Fall Camp, all signs point to a completely healthy hip.
"There haven't been any problems, I'm over it," Best said. "First couple weeks it was still in the back of my head but I'm not even thinking about it right now."
Best will be Cal's main threat coming out of the backfield but he won't be the only one. Redshirt freshman Shane Vereen and redshirt sophomore Tracy Slocum will be in the mix as well.
"We have belief in each other, we trust everybody," Best said. "We have a bunch of talented guys so whoever is in there we feel like we can all get the job done."
"I'm really excited, anxious, a little nervous," Best concluded. "But I'm ready."
Chris Nguon is the lead football writer for BearTerritory. He's well known for his recruiting and game coverage in the star-studded Oakland Athletic League, plus his numerous contributions with The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley's only independent, student-run newspaper. Nguon is also a correspondent with the Oakland Tribune, and will cover Cal football and basketball in 2008.