sports (2007-40)

Berry Picking


Two generations of Berrys don the orange and white

by Tony Basilo

Sports history has a way of repeating itself. It gets â“Berry,â” â“Berryâ” interesting at times. First it was James Berry who was a courageous standout at Tennessee during some lean years back in the late â’70s. Now his freshman son Eric is following in his popâ’s footsteps, during a season that could grow lean.

James Berry was a highly sought-after prospect from Natchez, Miss. who chose to cast his lot with the Vols during Johnny Majorsâ’ first recruiting class in a decision he doesnâ’t regret. A recent guest on my radio program, Berry gave us some insight into his career at Tennessee.

â“I was a highly recruited athlete out of Mississippi, and once I paid my visit to Tennessee, it was more or less the fan support and the home atmosphere that sold me. It was just wonderful. And I have the utmost respect for coach Johnny Majors. He was one of the great guys to come out of the University of Tennessee. Everything that he told me from â‘weâ’re not going to promise you anythingâ’ to â‘youâ’re going to have to earn a starting position once you get here,â’ turned out to be true. I loved playing for Coach Majors.â”

That Eric, a five-star stud recruit from Georgia, is finding early success at UT is no surprise to his proud father. â“Eric, being the kind of person he is, always seeks out competition. He loves being pushed. Heâ’s always strived to be his best, but heâ’s also always been a team player as well. Heâ’ll do anything Tennessee needs him to do. He was just a kid who grew up loving the game of football. And then when he got to high school, he poured himself into it. He studied film and really strived to be the best. There was always a competitive edge he tried to gain and that he worked hard to achieve.â”

The Berrys have experienced the ups and downs early on in Ericâ’s career in Knoxville. Against Florida, he took an interception to the house for a touchdown that gave Tennessee some third quarter momentum only to be victimized later in the game by Percy Harvin and the high-octane Gators. â“Itâ’s funny you would bring that up since Eric talked with me before the Florida game and expressed concern that the Gators were going to pick on him because thatâ’s what teams like Florida do. I told Eric that if you get beat, you donâ’t let it beat you for the rest of the day. You dust yourself off and give it your best on the next play. I was proud of him in that game.â”

To those who believe he steered his son to Rocky Top, James maintains the following: â“If I didnâ’t attend the University of Tennessee, then I probably wouldnâ’t be married to the same woman Iâ’m married to. But fortunately I did. So I did have some influence on Eric ,but weâ’ve always raised Eric to be an individual to make up his own mind, and weâ’ve always respected his opinion on things. Now if his opinion was out of whack, we would correct him or whatever. But Eric made up his own mind about where he wanted to go. I stayed out of the recruiting process. My wife went with Eric on his official visits. I didnâ’t want to go to have any influence to say â‘Well, I attended Tennessee, so what do Alabama, Georgia or Auburn have to make him feel special?â’ Basically, it was Ericâ’s decision and once you get to know Eric, you will find out that he is an individual who is capable of making up his own mind and his own decision.â”

James played tailback and fullback at Tennessee, which is ironic as Eric has already played safety and corner in his brief UT career. James said his son will follow in his footsteps and do whatever Coach Fulmer and staff want. â“Long-term, Iâ’m not getting into which position will be better for him, because Eric will play where the coaches need him to play. Thatâ’s just him.â”

Eric may not be the last of the Tennessee Berrys. He has 11-year-old twin brothers who have the football gene. â“Iâ’ve been coaching little league for almost 20 years here in Georgia in the same park league that Eric grew up playing in and my twin boys are gifted as well. Hopefully, someday, theyâ’ll want to play for the Vols but Iâ’m going to let them make their own decision.â” Could be â“Berryâ” interesting.


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