Introducing No. 1 in Tennessee’s class of 2007, do-everything athlete Eric Berry.
The early bird
For most future college football players, recruiting is something that happens primarily during their senior year and the preceding summer. Some of more highly touted guys will start getting attention during the junior years of high school. The truly gifted get noticed before they’re old enough to drive.
The University of Georgia offered Eric Berry a full ride while he was still a sophomore in high school. Georgia was first in a long line to woo Berry that would form quickly and snake its way through the velvet ropes, out the lobby, down the interstate, and across the country.
Berry had compiled 130 tackles and 13 interceptions as a freshman and sophomore cornerback. As a junior quarterback, he had 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns rushing to go with 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns passing. By the end of his junior season, Berry had either verbal or written offers from such notables as Georgia, Ohio State, Florida, Alabama, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina. Most wanted him to play the cornerback position despite the fact that he hadn’t even played that position as a junior.
In April, 2006, Berry fractured a wrist during a long-jump competition. Bad timing, really, as it was one week before the Scout.com combine. He considered skipping the workout due to the heavy cast he had to wear, but when he got wind of rumors that he could do no better than a 4.5 in the 40, he decided to prove them all wrong. He ran a 4.33 in the electronically-timed event, the fastest time of anyone in attendance, despite the fact that the cast made it feel to Berry like he was running with a medicine ball.
Regulating the communications industry
If Berry had somehow escaped the attention of any major program in college football, he had it now. Coaches from all over the country suddenly flocked to see him, and his mother had to issue a stern warning about the ever increasing phone bills showing up in the mail box as a result of the sudden stalking of her son by grown men. Berry’s list of suitors included all of the heavy hitters, but his top five were Tennessee, Georgia, Miami, Texas, and Ohio State.
In July, Berry induced a rash of palpitations among coaching staffs across the country when he suddenly and inexplicably went dark. The coaches had no way of knowing that the second $400 month in a row had driven Berry’s parents to promulgate a house-rule against text messaging and deactivate the service.
The second mouse
Berry’s trip to Knoxville for the Tennessee-Florida game on September 17, 2006 was not his first. As a matter of fact, his first trip to Neyland had been as a young boy, with his father James, who was a four-year letterman, three-year starter, and one-year captain while playing for Tennessee from 1978 to 1981. The elder Berry (!) had been a teammate of John Chavis’ and a player under Fulmer when Fulmer was a lowly assistant. While he’d spent time in Dallas playing for the Cowboys, he remained faithful to the Vols, watching them every week.
Well, the Berry doesn’t fall far from the . . . bush, so when Eric was in Knoxville for the Florida game, guess what, he enjoyed it:
I had never seen the Vol Walk before, but it was great. The fans were showing lots of love to the current players and I had a bunch of fans talking to me and showing me some love. Then, after the game, me and a buddy were hanging out on the strip when two fans came up and invited us to grab a burger with them at Krystal and they knew who I was. I had never had an experience like that before. The people up there were great.
I talk to coach Trooper the most and I can relate to him the most. He always tells me how it is a family up there and you can see that. I saw it Saturday with the way he treats Robert Meachem. It is like they are father and son. I know he turned down more money last year to go to Texas to stay at Tennessee. That is impressive to me.
Berry was also impressed with the Tennessee fans’ positive reaction to the close loss, later contrasting it to the way the fans of some other unidentified school booed their own team after a loss while he was visiting. Remember that the next time you're disappointed with your team.
Perhaps the aforementioned unidentified school was Georgia, which he visited on October 7 for its loss to Tennessee. Berry characterized the visit as "all right." He said that the Dawg Walk was "okay," meaning different from Tennessee’s Vol Walk, although the real difference seemed to be that he was allowed to participate in the event at Tennessee and not permitted to do so at Georgia. He also sounded skeptical of the coaches’ assertions that he would be allowed to play both ways in light of the fact that he was not allowed to talk to any offensive coaches.
By October, Berry had set his five officials: Tennessee, Georgia, Auburn, Southern Cal, and Ohio State. On October 21, he took an official visit to Auburn for the Tulane game, and he went back on November 11 unofficially for the Georgia game.
Two weeks later, Berry returned to Neyland for Tennessee’s last regular season game against Kentucky. Not 24 hours later, coaches Cutcliffe, Chavis, and Taylor were in Berry’s living room describing to him in detail just what they had planned should he choose to play for Tennessee. Chavis needed cornerbacks desperately, and Cutcliffe was reverse engineering the Wildcat package Arkansas used to feature Humanity Advanced, hoping to use it for Berry. The recruit was duly impressed that the Vol coaches were in his living room immediately following a game and that they had better than some faint idea that Berry wanted to play both ways. They had a plan.
On December 14, Tennessee had one last major offensive. Coaches Fulmer and Cutcliffe were waiting for Berry at Creekside High School when he arrived for classes that morning. After a brief chat, Berry went to class and the coaches returned to Knoxville for practice, but coach Fulmer was back with coach Taylor in Berry’s living room that same night. The Volunteer coaching staff was demonstrating that Berry was a priority, and Berry was noticing.
A couple of days later, Berry had a long talk with his high school coach. Asked if he really wanted to go all the way to California or even up north to Ohio, Berry decided that he did not, and so he eliminated Southern Cal and Ohio State from consideration. As between Georgia, Auburn, and Tennessee, Berry decided that he simply liked Tennessee better. He cleared his calendar of the remainder of his official visits and chose Tennessee.
Long term plan: knock out teeth, bill Medicaid to replace them
Sure, being a legacy was a factor leading to his decision to commit to Tennessee, but even more than that, Berry just liked the coaches and what they were telling him about letting him play all over the field, and early to boot. Berry also considered Tennessee to be a good fit academically, as he aspires to be a dentist and will major in pre-med in Knoxville. When your ex-college captain and NFL player father tells you that you can’t rely on sports forever, you’d be wise to believe him.
Coach Fulmer was elated at Berry’s sudden commitment to Tennessee and abandonment of the remainder of the recruiting season, saying that several other players were waiting to see what Berry would do before they made their own decisions. The dominoes began to fall the first week of January, when Berry showed up for the U.S. Army All-American game. He spent a good deal of time with both Chris Donald, who was trying to choose between Tennessee and Notre Dame, and Ben Martin, who was a foregone conclusion to announce for Ohio State or Notre Dame. They both committed to Tennessee during the nationally televised game.
Berry made an impression on the field as well. Slated to play at the cornerback position despite the fact that he hadn’t done so for two years, he had four interceptions during the first practice, two of which he returned for touchdowns, and another the following day. He also appeared to get the best of fellow Tennessee commit Gerald Jones, who played on the opposing squad.
By the way, Berry had another fantastic year as a senior, rushing for 1,500 yards and passing for another 1,000 yards as QB and racking up 40 tackles and three interceptions as a safety. He finished 37-5 as the four-year starting QB for Creekside. He was a Parade All-American, a U.S. Army All-American (starter), the Gatorade Player of the Year in Georgia, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Player of the Year in Georgia. Rivals and Scout both have Berry as a five star recruit and they and ESPN all have Berry as the No. 1 cornerback in the nation. Rivals says that he’s the No. 3 overall national prospect, and ESPN says he’s the No. 7 overall national prospect.
A thousand words times 30 frames per second
There are many words to describe Berry’s many talents. Fortunately, there’s also a video:
Somebody say woo!
Rocky Top Talk Mnemonic
Early bird gets the worm, but
Second mouse gets cheese
Eric Berry, welcome to Tennessee!