In just the second game of his NFL career, Jahvid Best ran for 78 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught nine passes for 154 yards and another touchdown. Through two career games as a pro, Best had scored an incredible five touchdowns.
You could see it all laid out in front of the Detroit Lions rookie back then, in September 2010: Several seasons of NFL stardom, propelled by the breakaway speed that made him a college star and first-round draft pick.
“My expectations are high, so whatever they need me to do, I feel like I should go out there and perform,” Best told MLive.com at the time. “I feel like nobody should (catch me in the open field). If somebody gets me, it’s my fault.”
Best was a Bay Area high school legend who decided to stay home for college and sign with Cal. He quickly became a star there, and was selected first-team All Pac-10 in 2007 and 2008.
But Best’s final college play was a horrifying collision in November 2009 that ended his junior season early. Best was carried off the field in a stretcher while wearing an oxygen mask, then taken to the emergency room.
Sprinting for the end zone in the second quarter of a home game against Oregon State, Best vaulted himself over the goal line. But an Oregon State defender inadvertently boosted Best even higher. The star running back spun several feet into the air before landing on the back of his head and neck area.
His helmet popped off on impact. Cameras recorded scary footage of Best laid out in the end zone, stiff as a board.
I was in the stands at Memorial Stadium that night. I still remember the creepy, horrified silence.
A stadium full of humans wondered whether they’d just seen another person get paralyzed or worse on the play.
Tens of thousands of stomachs churned at once as Best was taken off the field on a stretcher. The game’s second half, after Best’s injury, felt awkward and pointless. It felt gross.
A YouTube video titled “Jahvid Best Epic Concussion (Multiple Angles)” has since been viewed more than 1.5 million times. It’s as ugly as any fall you’re likely to see in a lifetime of watching American football.
Best had sustained a milder concussion in a game for Cal the previous week. Together, the consecutive hits were enough to end his season. He then skipped his senior year to declare for the 2010 NFL Draft. Best’s confidence was vindicated when the Lions selected the 5-foot-10-inch, 199-pound running back with the 30th pick of the first round.
Which brings us back to where we began this story, with a young man on the rise.
Two games and five touchdowns into his NFL career, Best’s frightening concussion troubles seemed behind him.
“Why would it still be a problem for me? I don’t even remember it happening,” the Lions rookie told MLive.com back then about the hit that had ended his college career.
But the following year, Best suffered a concussion in a 2011 Lions pre-season game. Midway through the regular season, Best suffered another concussion. The team put him on the injured list.
Neurologists would never clear him to play again; his NFL career had ended after just 22 games. The Lions officially released Best in July 2013. The team website called it “a sad story.”
Best remained upbeat. “It’s good that I left the game healthy,” he told the Bay Area News Group in 2014. “That’s very important to me.”
But he’d largely fallen off the sports radar until now.
For those who remember Best as a Heisman Trophy contender at Cal and a rookie sensation for the Detroit Lions, this summer brought inspiring news.
Best will compete in the 100-meter dash at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Above all else Im excited to get out there and make my country and family proud, Best said via a statement delivered to NBC Sports.
But the former star in American football won’t be running for the United States.
Best will compete for Saint Lucia, a tiny Caribbean nation with a population of just 163,000. Best’s father is a dual citizen of both the United States and Saint Lucia, according to NBC, which apparently makes Best eligible to represent the island nation in the Olympics.
But Best’s path to Olympic qualification is another story full of twists, turns and caveats.
On April 2, Best registered a time of 10.16 seconds in the 100-meters at what NBC called “a small meet in California.”
His time of 10.16 met the minimum Olympic-qualifying standard, according to NBC. It was his best-ever showing in the 100-meters and was achieved with a tailwind that fell just below the maximum allowed. In other words, it was the best sprint of his life and nearly didn’t count for Olympic qualification.
And that’s not even all.
While it met the Olympic minimum, Best’s time of 10.16 seconds wouldn’t have been enough to make the U.S Olympic team with a population of 320 million people, there are a lot of fast humans to choose from.
But ah, Saint Lucia! Different story.
Like we mentioned earlier, its population is just 163,000 a tiny fraction of a single percent of the U.S. population. According to NBC, Saint Lucia has never medaled at an Olympics and has never sent a delegation of more than six athletes to compete.
Point being: 10.16 seconds gets you a lot more in Saint Lucia than it does in the United States. But with such a small history in the Games, Saint Lucia was likely happy to add a sprinter of Best’s caliber.
Not that Best is likely to bring the island nation its first medal, however. Given that his best-ever time barely met Olympic standards, he’s unlikely to advance far against the world’s best sprinters.
But that’s a small-minded way of looking at it. Consider Best’s star-crossed football career, and the hits from which he was fortunate not to sustain more significant damage.
His greatest victory has already been achieved.
When I think [about]the road I have traveled to get here I get tons of emotions,” Best told NBC. “A couple of years ago my lifetime dream was crushed.I was devastated, but I never stop dreaming and believing in myself.”
Let that be an Olympic-sized lesson to us all.