Chuck Chastain recalls the exact moment he knew Jaydn Ott would be special.
Chastain is the head coach at Norco High School in Riverside County, and Ott — now a freshman sensation at Cal — was a backup freshman on the Cougars’ 2018 team.
Norco was playing Vista Murrieta in an early-season game and the Cougars’ two senior running backs both became injured and unable to play.
This was Ott’s moment.
“He ended up breaking away and scoring the winning touchdown,” Chastain said. “You could see when he hit the hole he had elite speed that most people don’t possess. Once he starts high-stepping, he’s gone.
“The vision of what he could do became clear right then.”
It was a 23-yard touchdown run, according to MaxPreps, and it boosted the Cougars into a 30-16 lead with barely a minute left. Vista Murrieta scored once more, meaning that Ott’s TD was the difference-maker in a 30-23 victory.
Ott finished that game with the modest total of 54 rushing yards. But he was just getting started.
“That’s where it all became comfortable for him,” Chasten said. “We knew we had something special but you’ve got to earn your stripes.”
Ott went on to post five games of at least 100 yards — as a freshman — including 173 yards and four touchdowns against King, 176 yards and two TDs vs. Redlands East Valley, and 221 yards and a TD vs. Roosevelt.
Ott rushed for 1,096 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman, then spent the next two years at Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, but did not play football either season. He returned to Norco in 2021 and ran for 1,200 yards and 17 TDs as a senior.
Ott already has earned his stripes at Cal, starting with 104 yards against UC Davis in his college debut, then a 274-yard, three-touchdown performance against Arizona last Saturday.
*** Cal coach Justin Wilcox talks in the video at the top about how Ott has earned a lion's share of the carries.
The Pac-12’s leading rusher with 463 yards, Ott is 11th on the FBS national leaders’ list, first among all freshmen.
Chastain believes what Ott is doing now is the result of hard work he put in while in high school. Ott was a regular in the weight room, and built himself to the point where he could dunk a basketball and complete a standing leap onto two stacked 30-inch tall blocks.
“He’s stronger than he looks,” Chastain said. “He ran extremely hard, never shied away from contact. His legs are so strong he can move the pile.”
Chastain well remembers the way Ott attacked a running play. “He doesn’t really dance too much,” he said. “He makes that one move, makes a decision and goes with it.”
Ott was a great role model to his four younger sisters, Chastain said, and took care of business in the classroom.
“When he went to Cal, with the academic standards of the school, that would be a concern for some guys,” Chastain said. “Not for him.”
As far as Ott’s on-field performance through the first four games of his college career, Chastain said he’s not surprised.
“We knew he had it in him. All he needed was an opportunity,” Chastain said. “Not shocked at all. Watch out, he’s dynamic.”
Cover photo of Jaydn Ott against Arizona by Darren Yamashita, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo