In his room that’s decorated with LED lights and a Fathead wall sticker of his own heel-click touchdown celebration, Jaylon Bester hung a poster of a tiger.
The wild cat is Bester’s favorite animal. As one of the jungle’s apex predators, it’s intimidating, selfish and calibrated to strike at any time — the opposite of Bester’s rambunctious, social energy.
Until he steps onto a football field.
“I’m totally two different people,” Bester said. “I’m a real chill type of dude. I get loud sometimes. I feel like I’m an extrovert, but once I’m on the field, I don’t care. I’m trying to kill everybody. It’s a totally different personality.”
Off the field, Bester, 20, can’t sit still. He hates car rides. He wants to become a coach to avoid being confined to an office. He takes tests with his headphones on, rhythm and blues blaring.
On the field, he becomes that tiger.
His brown eyes, typically wide open to take in as much of the world as possible, turn intense. His infectious, white-toothed smile disappears.
“I like the personality of a tiger,” Bester said. “They don’t give a damn.”
Now a junior at Miami, Jaylon Bester has become one of the must-watch players in a RedHawk uniform this year. He grabbed the starting running back position before the start of the season and has solidified himself in that position with 267 rush yards and a team-high five touchdowns.
Miami head coach Chuck Martin said he knew Bester was going to be a special player while the latter was still playing at Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville, Illinois.
Once Bester arrived in Oxford, any doubts Martin had about him were assuaged on Sept. 30, 2017, a month into his freshman year.
Bester, back to return a kickoff against Notre Dame, caught the ball at his team’s own 2-yard line. He broke two tackles, outran a Fighting Irish cornerback and kept going before being tackled at the 36-yard line.
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“He’s fine on this field, and he’s just a freshman,” Martin remembers thinking at the time.
Bester finished the game with seven kick returns for 163 yards.
At 5 foot 8, 184 pounds, Bester’s biggest knock on a football field is his size. It kept him from being recruited by football powerhouses coming out of high school.
“If he was a couple inches taller, he wouldn’t be a RedHawk right now, so we’re glad he’s a couple inches shorter in stature,” Martin said. “He can play with anybody, and he’s never been on a football field where he’s been outmatched.”
His size might have also contributed to the only things holding him back on the field this season: injuries.
Bester got hurt in the season-opener at Iowa and missed the next three games, including contests at Cincinnati and Ohio State. With his go-all-out style of play, Bester was looking a little like his first car, a red 1995 Chevrolet Monte Carlo that he named Daisy.
“I did some damage to that car,” Bester said, shaking his head. “I had about six accidents in that car. My little baby, Daisy, woo! She was a trooper.”
Within a month of Bester leaving for college in 2017, Bester’s parents sold Daisy. He endured more than a year without a car before they surprised him with a silver 2008 Nissan Altima last spring. He named it Delilah.
Even though Bester lives off campus, he doesn’t drive Delilah much. He often rides his electric scooter.
Bester shares a house with three teammates — junior defensive back Mike Brown, redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jalen Walker and junior wide receiver Dominique Robinson.
“Dom is like the dad,” Bester said, pointing across the field to Robinson. “I guess you could say I’m the child in the group … I’m the worst in the house. They get on me and nitpick me more than anybody.”
Robinson said he agrees that Bester is a child.
“He does a lot of dumb stuff,” Robinson said.
Bester keeps lights on, leaves doors open and strews his belongings throughout the house.
He’s the only one who can cook, so if he isn’t cooking, no one is. He makes only breakfast and, sometimes, treats himself to McDonald’s, his go-to fast food restaurant. His usual order: a triple cheeseburger, a plain McChicken and a strawberry cream pie.
And, most importantly to Bester, he destroys his housemates in video games.
“I’ve got the gaming room in the house,” Bester said. “Everyone comes in my room if they want to play a game. I’ve got a PlayStation 4. If you play Xbox, I can’t trust you.”
It doesn’t matter if the game is NBA 2K, Madden or Call of Duty.
“I’m the best at all of them,” Bester said.
Robinson has seen Bester flip the switch from light-hearted to serious many times.
The two became friends during their freshman year, when they lived on the same floor in Flower Hall. Robinson liked to mess with Bester by sneaking into his room or stealing his snacks. Bester responded by throwing his flip-flops and, if he was really mad, his phone at Robinson.
“He would be pissed, very angry,” Robinson said.
It’s the same type of attitude Bester had while watching his teammates lose to Cincinnati and Ohio State from the sidelines during his injured stretch this season. Bester, not always a vocal leader, wasn’t happy about the way his team was playing without him.
“He wanted to kill everyone on our team [during the loss to Cincinnati],” Martin said. “He wanted to kill me, and he wanted to kill his teammates. Off the field, he’s happy-go-lucky, fun-loving. He’s got a great personality. But you don’t really see that on the field. He’s all business.”
Martin said he’s never had to rein in Bester. Bester is just naturally competitive.
“He doesn’t have a lot of tolerance for not being good,” Martin said. “He’s been good his whole life, and he’s been on good teams.”
That mindset comes from his dad, Marcus, and older brother, Jamone. Both are former players, so he talks to each one after every game.
Bester values the time he gets with his family, especially now, because he isn’t home often. He said he’s just like his mom, Sheria. They both despise being wrong.
“Me and my mom are, like, split images of each other,” Bester said. “We look like each other and act like each other, as well.”
He has a tattoo dedicated to her on his right arm. He talks to her on the phone at least four times a week and his dad at least three times a week.
“They’re one of the best families you’ll meet,” Martin said. “They’re so close and so fun to be around. I remember my home [recruiting] visit with them in the wintertime, we were watching some NFL playoff game on a Sunday, and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard on a home visit. Just an awesome kid from an awesome family.”
Bester expects the best from himself. The last few times he’s scored, he wasn’t happy and didn’t celebrate. He was disappointed because he felt like he didn’t shoulder enough of the load.
“I felt like I wasn’t playing as well,” Bester said. “The touchdowns came inside the 5-yard line, and I don’t feel like I earned all my touchdowns. I was given them ’cause I was the person in the game. I didn’t do the hard work of getting down there, so I did the easy part.”
Bester wanted the big run, the 50-yarder.
On Oct. 26, with Miami clinging to a 16-13 lead against Kent State late in the fourth quarter, he got his chance.
The RedHawks were stationed near midfield, just inside Kent State territory. Bester, hands on his knees, assumed his pre-snap stance in the shotgun formation next to freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert.
Gabbert took the snap and handed the ball to Bester.
Bester shot toward the right side of the offensive line and went in between the right guard and right tackle.
He sped to daylight.
Fifteen yards into the run, two Golden Flash defenders converged on him. He cut upfield and exploded between them, outrunning both.
Track meet, end zone, 47-yard touchdown.
He stared directly into a camera and let out a tiger-esque roar.