Legendary former Cal running back Jahvid Best accepted the role of head coach at Saint Mary’s High School of Berkeley last week, ushering in an era for the Panthers. The seventh head coach in 25 years for St. Mary’s, Best will look to provide stability for a program that has dwindled in the past years. Just 18-28 from 2015 to present, and with no winning seasons in that span, the Panthers may have just made a home run hire in the 2021 cycle.
Best, who attended Salesian High School and rushed for more than 6,000 career yards (and 3,325 in his senior season, accompanied by 48 touchdowns), knows a thing or two about high school athletics. Best, of course, went on to play for Cal, and accumulated 35 touchdowns and more than 3,200 yards from scrimmage in his three-year career with the Bears. He took his extraordinary athleticism to the professional level the following year, and was selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions.
Unfortunately, Best’s career would be cut short by a series of concussions, including one terrifying moment at Cal that left his career momentarily in doubt. Thankfully, Best persevered, and rejoined the Bears in a different capacity in 2014, when he was announced as a student assistant coach while he returned to school to finish his degree.
“Football is no different than life,” Best said. “What you put into it, you’ll get out of it.” These are words he lives by. It would have been easy, reasonable even, for Best to stay away from the game that got taken away from him too soon, but he never saw that as an option.
Best’s drive to get involved with coaching high school football stems from one thing: “To apply sports to life and be a mentor for young people.” As Best believes, football can behave as a microcosm for life and can ingrain strong character in young athletes. Having someone like Best around — someone who found a way to be a part of what he loves even in the face of devastating adversity — will be a boon for the players who have the opportunity to be mentored by him.
“It’s all about the culture,” Best said, “I want to create an environment that is about learning and growing, about the value of work ethic and dedication.” One must look no further than that to find the true gem behind high school athletics — ask any coach, athletic director or athlete.
Best’s mindset revolves around success at St. Mary’s, but the road ahead may not be a smooth one. While turning programs around is never easy, the pattern of perseverance that Best displayed in his playing days suggests that he is well-equipped to handle whatever challenges present themselves in the future. With summer practices just around the corner, St. Mary’s may be a team to watch as it continues to grow under Best’s guidance.