December 30, 2009

Strong family supplied Berry's foundation

Eric Berry has accomplished so much during his extremely fast three years at Tennessee. The most decorated Vol this decade, Berry has been just as good off the field as he has been between the white lines and his parents, James and Carol, have played a key role in his growth in both areas.

The final chapter of his Tennessee football career may very well take place on Thursday. A scene that will take place in a building he grew up dreaming about.

"When Eric was in high school, he always had this dream of playing in the dome," James Berry said. "Because that is where they played their championship game. He never got the chance to do that and it will be a welcoming thing to him because it will be just like his dream come true to come back and play in the Georgia Dome at home."

Coming home for the holidays and playing in front of family and friends has put a big smile on Tennessee's All-American.

"I was telling James the other day that he seemed happy to be home," Carol Berry said. "He's very relaxed, very happy. He's sleeping on the couch. He was just happy to be home."

As you approach the Berry family home, you can feel the energy walking up the wooden steps that lead to the front door. It's a house full of love and passion for life. The same type of characteristics that make up Eric's personality and demeanor are instantly recognizable at his family's home. An enthusiasm to approach each day with a smile that could light up Neyland Stadium on any given Saturday night. It's that daily way of tackling life that James Berry best knows how to describe Eric as an energetic youngster.

"We were at the park," James Berry said. "He was in the swing and he couldn't have been more than five or six years old. He was swing hard. Going so far up that the chain was popping. And I was like, 'wow the kid is really pushing it to the limit.' And I looked up and the next thing he went up and jumped out. And everything looked like it slowed down and he turned a flip and landed on his feet. He turned at me and said, 'Ta-da!' and I was like, 'I'm going to kill this kid.' By the time I go over there he was so proud at what he had accomplished I just said, 'Son, don't ever do that again.'

Eric is just seven yards away from breaking the NCAA career return yardage for interceptions. A possible top five pick in next April's NFL draft, Eric started out playing football with his hand on the ball at the start of every play. But that quickly changed.

He may get his athleticism from his father, but his generosity and kind nature comes from his mother. Growing up the two spent time together running between athletic functions, while James worked the night shift.

"It started in little league when his coach came up to me and I wanted to know why Eric was playing center," James Berry said. "He told me, 'Well he's probably the best athlete we have on the field and his hands are big enough to control the ball.' I told him he shouldn't be playing center and that we'd have to make some type of adjustments on that (laughs). Carol told me to not be one of those parents that is in the stands yelling and screaming. If I wanted to do something about it then I should get out there and coach. The next year I did."

"We've always taught him to treat people the way he'd like to be treated," Carol Berry said. "Always put yourself in the other persons shoes. You are never to good to clean up after yourself or take care of yourself. Just be nice to everybody."

While Eric decided to leave an area that is full of Georgia Bulldogs fans, the people in Fairburn here just outside Atlanta have never let that get in the way of their love for a young man that has given back to many in the community.

"(The Community) loves him," James Berry said. "He visits with the neighbors and talks with his childhood friends. His high school buddies still come over to the house. He's created this relationship with a lot of people and he's upholding it. It's something you can be proud of because he's not cocky. He's down to earth."

Just like the time that he logs signing autographs these days, Eric has spent his fair share of time mentoring the youth in both Fairburn and Knoxville. That is something that Carol takes great pride in.

"I get my joy from watching him with other kids," Carol Berry said. "He's always been really supportive of his brothers. When they were little, he was a big help to us. Everything he does is what we expect because of who he is and has become."

The bonus room downstairs at the Berry house is best described by two colors; Orange and Gold. There are plenty of Tennessee related items including a Vol #34 jersey that James is very proud of from his days as a Tennessee tailback. Pictures of Eric fill up the room. And then there are numerous trophies from his little league days through the present.

With the chance of Thursday being his final game in orange and white, the request for tickets has been great.

"It's been off the charts," James said. "I have a lot of family members coming in from Mississippi. We got close friends here in the metro area. We'd love to try and get everyone in, but it's going to be impossible. If there is anyone out there with any extra tickets and you want to donate them then we will be willing to take them off your hands (laughs)."

Eric and his mother also spent a lot of times watching movies growing up. His favorite movie according to Carol was, Home Alone. And much like Kevin tortured Marv and Harry, Eric has tortured opposing offenses. So much so that he has quickly become a Vol legend.

"Being up there with Reggie White and Johnny Majors, I'm excited," Berry said. "I'm very proud of him and all that he's done. The things he's accomplished and the direction he's headed."

Eric Berry is definitely headed somewhere. It could be to the NFL by closing out the final chapter in what has been a terrific Tennessee tenure. Or his orange legend could take a leap like a young kid once did. Landing squarely on his feet and closing things out with 'Ta-da!'

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