Best Happy to be Back Home

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By Jim McGill, Staff Writer
Posted Feb 20, 2014
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2014 BearInsider.com


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Former Cal running back Jahvid Best returns to Cal
It seems much longer than the six and a half years since Jahvid Best first took the field at Memorial Stadium as a freshman running back, perhaps because so much has transpired since taking the nation by storm with play after play combining stunning speed, vision and athleticism in his brief but meteoric career.
Before committing to Cal, the Richmond native had an amazing prep career at nearby Salesian High School, rushing for over 3200 yards and 48 touchdowns as a senior before adding nearly 2700 yards and 35 touchdowns in three seasons at Cal that were abbreviated by injury. 
 
In 2010 and 2011, Best played parts of two seasons in the NFL, adding nearly 1,000 rushing yards. 85 receptions and 9 touchdowns before a series of concussions cut his mercuric career short. 
 
Best was joined in the NFL with the Detroit Lions by former Cal linebacker Zach Follett, also another fan favorite who had to retire prematurely due to injury.
 
"When I was a rookie, Zach was still on the team so we were kicking it all the time," said Best. It was good to have someone from the Cal family with me.
 
"Now JRoss (utility player Jeremy Ross) is up there so I'm going to have to go back up there all the time now."
 
Another teammate of Best's at Cal -fellow running back Shane Vereen- is still going strong with the New England Patriots -a fact that makes Best more than happy. 
 
"I still talk to Shane all the time," said Best. "I just love it (all the success he's having). I knew he's the type of person that's always going to work hard. If he got out there and got a shot, I knew he was going to get his." 
 
The 24-year old Best looked in playing shape, sitting in the Memorial Stadium press box with a gathering of Bay Area media today -looking almost fast enough to beat current speedy Cal running back Khalfani Muhammad in a race, though the freshman running back is now competing with the Cal track and field squad.  
 
"I'm not in playing shape," said Best, with a laugh. "I'm still fast, though.
 
"It's funny. I ran into him on campus and said, 'we have to race.'
 
"I don't know if he's thinking about it but every time I see him, I think we need to race and see who's faster. He just starts laughing. We'll have to race one day."
 
Bear fans were pleased to hear news last month that the surefire Cal Hall of Famer had returned to Cal to resume his studies and also be a part of the football program in some capacity, with today's media gathering serving as official notice that he will indeed be a part of the team in 2014 -and hopefully beyond. 
 
"I didn't graduate so I came back to finish my degree," said Best. "That's the first thing I wanted to do after my football days were over so I'm back here getting my degree. Fortunately, Coach Dykes and Coach Ingram and all the coaches have been very supportive after I told them I'd possibly be interested in pursuing coaching after my degree is complete. They're letting me assist with the running backs because I'm here back in school, just being around around the guys and helping out as much as I can, in any way that I can.
 
"It's not a specific role but since I'm here and I played running back at Cal, I went through what these guys are going through right now and I can kind of be a mentor and someone they can come to and talk about football or talk about life, talk about school, talk about everything.
 
"I've got a lot to offer to these young athletes so that's what I'm here for and while I'm doing that, I have to get my degree." 
 
After departing early for the NFL in his junior season where he was the 30th pick in the 1st round of the amateur draft in 2010, Best will have a decent amount of work to put in to earn his BA in African American studies but he's happy to take on the latest challenge presented before him.
 
"I've got some time, said Best. "I left as a true junior so naturally that leaves me a year and some change left.
 
"I'm just taking it one semester at a time, just knocking out classes and being around football because I miss the game.
 
"The hardest thing is just not having a schedule. Ever since high school, I'm used to knowing exactly what was going to happen. Your day was planned out for you.
 
"Now that I'm just a student, I find myself sitting there thinking, 'What am I going to do now?
 
After a series of injuries in both college and in the NFL finally forced a premature close to his promising young career, Best finally had to hang up his cleats for good in 2013 and is doing his best to cope with an early end of his athletic dreams.  
 
"Oh man, that was tough for me,' said Best of his early retirement. "But I'm a strong believer in God and I feel like God doesn't make mistakes.
 
"My playing days are over. I knew it was going to happen eventually and it happened a lot quicker than I wanted it to. But everything happens for a reason so I just decided to go back to school and figure out what's next for me."
 
Best noted that he doesn't have lingering health issues related to his concussions or anything else and is thankful that he was able to leave the game relatively healthy. 
 
"My health is fine. No issues that are dragging on so it's good that I left the game healthy. I don't have any more trouble concentrating in class than anyone else," said Best, with a laugh."
 
One might think that one of the most electric athletes ever to play the game at Cal would be a pseudo-celebrity on campus, especially so close to his time as a pro athlete, but Best has been able to fly under the radar as a student -just as he prefers. 
 
"They don't know who I am," said Best. "Football's a game where you've got a helmet on so I sit there just like a regular student. That's the way I like it."
 
Back to take care of unfinished business and point his future in a more certain direction is exactly where he wants to be. 
 
"I feel like I owe a lot to Cal," said Best. "What I did here and all the help I had while I was here, I feel like it's my turn to turn around and do my part in any way that I can, so whatever they need me to do, I'm here to help them.
 
"The main thing for me is getting my degree. That's really my main focus. All the other football stuff is kind of like a bonus for me. My focus is on getting my degree. That's what I'm here for.
 
"For me, it was just being a part of the family. I just wanted to be a part of the Cal family. Once I knew I wanted to come back to school and re-enrolled, I just went to them and said, 'How can I be a part of the Cal family and help out any way possible'?
 
"Once you're a part of the Cal family, you never really want to leave. Once my career was over, there was really only one place I knew I was going to go back to.
 
"Football is a part of my life. Just because I'm not playing anymore doesn't mean it has to stop being a part of my life. Naturally I miss playing but this is a new way I can fill that void. 
 
"Just the fact that they let me come back here to finish my degree is important to me. I owe a lot to the Cal family and I owe a lot to everyone who's helping me out right now."
 
One might wonder if Best has mixed emotions when he steps on the Memorial Field turf where he was a part of one of the scariest moments in Cal athletic history, vaulting into the air for a touchdown vs. Oregon State in 2009 and landing precariously on his back after being launched even higher by an Oregon State defender as he crossed the goal line. 
 
"Not necessarily mixed emotions," said Best of the injury. "When I go down there, I just get flashbacks of everything -all the great times I had down there and all the support from all the fans and just everything. So for me, it just feels good to be back in this environment.
 
"I remember the play. I still remember it. I've been told it's the quietest they've ever heard the stadium at that point. But everything happens for a reason. It happened for me but it's all good. How I look at it is the past is just the past and you have to move forward from there."
 
Best returns to a much-different Memorial Stadium, complete with sparkling new facilities that he'd hoped to see as a player in his time at Cal, but if he's remorseful about missing out on being able to utilize them as a player, he doesn't show it.
 
"When I talk to all the players that played here before, we kind of feel like we helped build it, too," said Best. "We're still getting satisfaction, just in looking at it.
 
"It happened to me in high school, too. Right after I graduated, we went from a frickin' dirt track to a frickin' nice track and football field, too," said Best, with a smile. 
 
Bringing in Best was one of the bigger recruiting victories in Cal history, with the Bears beating out USC, Notre Dame and many other suitors for the 4 star running back, but the Bears clearly got an assist from the family bonds that Best still cherishes today.
 
"For me when I was in high school, Cal was right in my backyard," said Best. "Family was really important to me. I chose to come here because my family could come to practice and see me all the time so that was something that was really important to me."
 
The Bears not only had to overcome other strong suitors for Best but also had to convince both Best and talented Valencia running back Shane Vereen -both top 20 backs- that both could flourish in the same class at Cal -something he's able to also communicate to incoming running backs Tre Watson and Vic Enwere.
 
"I just had the mindset that this is where I wanted to be," said Best. "I knew Shane was coming but he was a part of the running back family so it was a natural competition because we were both competing for one job. But at the same time, we both had to play so I wanted him to get better so he could be good and at the same time, we could make each other better. 
 
"That's kind of the whole gist of this thing. I've been through everything they've been through so if they need somebody to talk to or to mentor them, I'll be there for those kids." 
 
Now after taking a shot at his dream and achieving brief stardom on the highest stage, Best gets to return to his roots and take care of unfinished business at the same time. 
 
He does so without regret and without carrying the burden of any possible ramifications stemming from suffering from the head trauma that prematurely ended his career.
 
"The things I went through made the the person I am today so I'm grateful for that," said Best. "I love the game. That's why I'm here.
 
"I don't get worried. The position I'm in now, what would worrying do? Worrying's not going to do anything so why worry? I'm fine now so let me just focus on what I'm doing now and what direction I'll push my life in and everything else will take care of itself."
 
Now back where it all began, will Best soon be able to fully-appreciate being an integral part of the pantheon great running backs in the last decade of Cal football? 
 
"I think so," said Best with a wistful smile. "I think that will come in time."
 
For hundreds of thousands grateful Cal fans, that time is now. 
 
To hear abbreviated audio from today's media gathering, use the embedded viewer below:
 
 
 
To view a highlight reel from some of Best's many electrifying runs at Cal, use the embedded viewer below:  
 
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