Best gives California high hopes - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Best gives California high hopes

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Posted: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 4:29 pm | Updated: 1:56 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

BERKELEY, Calif. — Jeff Tedford knows there's no use in avoiding all the talk about the Heisman trophy and California star running back Jahvid Best.

It's hard not to link college football's most coveted award with a running back who averaged more than 8 yards a carry a year ago, has the game-breaking speed that makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the field and the character to ensure the lofty talk won't go to his head.

"He realizes that the team's success is first and foremost," Tedford said. "If there's any personal accolades that come along with that then so be it, but he is so well-respected by his teammates, and he respects his teammates and knows that the team is No. 1. He is so sincere about it that I don't have any problems with trying to keep it hush-hush with the Heisman or anything like that."

Best was a front-row witness to the Heisman hype machine two years ago, when a fast start by Cal put receiver DeSean Jackson into contention for the award. Then came an epic collapse, as the Golden Bears went from being on the verge of being No. 1 in the country to losing six of their final regular season games, ending any talk about any awards for Jackson.

So Best knows that the only way the individual accolades will come his way is if the team is successful.

"If you've got a guy going around saying he's the best man on the team, then you can't build trust with your teammates," Best said. "So, that's not what I want to do. I'm just going to make sure I do what I can to be the best for the team. The biggest thing is winning. Nobody really wins the highest honor on the team. But if we win, my chances will go up, so I will do the best I can."

With eight returning starters from a topflight defense, Best and Shane Vereen sharing the running load, and Pac-10 powerhouse Southern California needing to fill plenty of holes, this could be the year the Bears end a more than half-century drought and make it to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1958 season.

But for that to happen, the Bears first will have to solve their quarterback problems. Consistent play at quarterback has been lacking for Cal ever since Aaron Rodgers left for the NFL following the 2004 season.

After tutoring Kyle Boller and Rodgers into first-round picks early in his career at Cal, Tedford has struggled to find the next great passer for the Golden Bears.

Tedford entered fall camp once again unsure of who his starter would be Sept. 6 against Maryland and if he would split the duties as he did a year ago with Kevin Riley and Nate Longshore.

Riley, who went 7-2 as a starter last season, is back and entered as the slight favorite in a three-way battle with Brock Mansion and Beau Sweeney based on what he did last year.

"His experience puts him a step ahead and he has a knowledge of the offense," Tedford said. "Kevin has worked very hard fundamentally to be more efficient and more consistent. He's doing a nice job of assuming that leadership role as well, but consistency at the quarterback position, whether it is Kevin, Brock or Beau, is what we're really looking for."

No matter who wins the quarterback competition, the most effective play for Cal this season will be getting the ball into Best's hands. Best ran for 1,580 yards last season, averaging a school-record 8.1 yards per carry, the top mark in the country. He scored 16 touchdowns and had seven runs of at least 60 yards.

Best added 10 pounds this offseason to improve his power and durability, but still has the lightning speed that made him one of the most electric players in the country.

Left tackle Mike Tepper called his teammate the "perfect running back."

"When we run sweep, he's already around the corner and I have barely made my block," Tepper said. "He's quick as hell. He's now getting to the point where he's starting to plant on one leg and start to change direction without losing speed. It's becoming very scary. I'm excited to see what happens this season."

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