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California’s Best may be better

Speedy Bears back gave ’08 Cougars fits

PULLMAN – There may not be a more aptly named college football player than the University of California’s Jahvid Best.

When it comes to running backs in the Pac-10 Conference, and possibly the country, he’s simply unsurpassed.

“In my eyes, he probably is the best tailback in the country, if not the best,” Washington State coach Paul Wulff said.

“He’s more than good,” said WSU running back James Montgomery, a former Cal teammate. “From the first day I saw him, I knew he was good. He’s the best.”

“He’s a very, very well-versed back,” said USC coach Pete Carroll, who compares him to former Trojan Heisman winner Reggie Bush. “He’s got the magic because he’s got that great speed, and he’s a very consistent player, too.”

If all you knew of the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Best is his performance in last year’s game against the Cougars, you might think he is the greatest running back in the history of college football.

On the first play of Cal’s 66-3 rout – the first Pullman game of Wulff’s tenure – Best took a handoff from quarterback Kevin Riley and burst through a hole in the center of the WSU line.

Up came sophomore Chima Nwachukwu, making just his second start at safety. Best juked to the inside, Nwachukwu bit and Best exploded to the outside. Eighty yards and 11 seconds later, it was 7-0 Cal.

“I remember the first run of the game,” Best said. “It was blocked perfectly. My O-line and my fullback led me to the safety and once I got to the safety, I was able to make him miss and then it was just a race.”

Best doesn’t lose races. He was the California state 100-meter champion in high school.

“That wasn’t even full speed,” Montgomery said.

“I was just making sure nobody was going to catch me,” Best said, laughing at Montgomery’s comment.

Best finished the day with 200 yards on just 14 carries, including an 86-yard touchdown burst early in the third quarter, the last of his three scoring runs.

“That was one of my better performances from last year,” Best said.

WSU (1-5, 0-4 Pac-10) will face the Best test again Saturday in Berkeley.

“They’re a lot more disciplined,” Best said of the Cougars this season. “They fill their gaps and it’s just a better team defense. They’ve got some athletes out there. So it’s definitely going to be harder. It’s not going to be an easy game. They’re definitely better.”

The junior is averaging 6.1 yards a carry, 102.7 a game, and has scored nine times, including a 93-yard run against UCLA last week.

“You look at the game film and there are plays that are blocked OK, but he makes a 2-yard gain by most backs into a 93-yard gain,” Wulff said. “That’s what really good players do. Those guys help you win a lot of games.”

Best has also caught 13 passes, the longest of which is for 51 yards, also against the Bruins. Cal (4-2, 1-2) won that game 45-26 – the Bears had 494 yards of total offense – snapping a two-game losing streak.

“He’s got the ability to be extremely patient (and) see the hole,” Wulff said. “Then he’s got the physical ability to accelerate through the hole. He’s got good feet and great balance. And he’s physical.

“He’s not a speed runner. You would think he’s a burner, a track type guy. He’s not.”

He’s just the best, with a little ‘b’.