Berry plans to follow dad’s footsteps to UT

It was supposed to be a quiet weekend for Tennessee football recruiting.

No official visitors.

No announcements pending.

Then came a surprisingly sudden declaration from one of the top prospects in the nation. The shockwaves were felt from Los Angeles all the way to, well, his living room.

"I’m surprised," said James Berry of his son, Eric Berry’s commitment to Tennessee. "Most kids want to take all of their visits — look at the schools. He just decided it was time."

James Berry, a running back at UT from 1978 to 1981, didn’t even know his son had reached a decision until a day later. James was working Saturday as Eric was laying out his future.

"He surprised me," James said Sunday. "He told me this morning. It was a good surprise."

Eric Berry, a 5-foot-11, 195-pounder from Creekside High School in Fairburn, Ga., informed UT’s coaches of his decision Sunday. His announcement came even before he took an official UT visit, which still is unscheduled.

"It was just a feeling," said Berry, who also was considering Southern Cal, Ohio State and Georgia.

Berry said he hoped the earlier-than-expected decision will allow those schools to move on.

"I didn’t want to do it so last-minute and say ‘I’m not coming to your school.’ " Berry said.

At UT, Berry could play any number of positions, including quarterback, wide receiver, kick returner, tailback or defensive back, where he’s most often projected. Whichever position he plays, he knew he wanted it to be as a Vol, especially after UT coach Phillip Fulmer and receivers coach Trooper Taylor visited Thursday.

"The home visit when Coach Fulmer came, it was just so comfortable around him," Berry said.

Evidently, UT’s coaches were determined to make an impression earlier that day. Berry said six different coaches visited his high school last week, including Fulmer and coordinators John Chavis and David Cutcliffe.

"It showed a lot," Berry said.

Given his pledge, Berry could indirectly help UT’s recruiting efforts. He is scheduled to participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio on Jan. 6. UT annually recruits a handful of prospects involved in the event.

"I think it could help," he said. "It should."

It’s not often that a school lands a nationally top-ranked, out-of-state prospect without him taking an official visit. How much did James Berry’s UT career factor into the decision?

"I stayed out of it," the elder Berry said. "I let him make his own decision. I’m very proud of him."

Sure, James Berry tried to stay out of his son’s decision, but the groundwork between the two had been laid years before.

"He hasn’t influenced me (in my decision) in any way," Eric said. "But I try to be like my dad so much, I think that played in it. But if it wasn’t the right place, I’d have gone somewhere else."

The last time Berry laid such a stunning surprise on the recruiting world was at the 600-prospect Nike Camp in Athens, Ga., last spring when ran the camp-best 40-yard time — despite wearing a medicine ball-like bandage to protect his broken right hand.

First, it was a 4.33 time in the 40-yard dash. Now, it’s an abrupt announcement. Seems it’s best to expect the unexpected when it comes to Eric Berry.

"He’ll dredge his own path," James Berry said. "I guess he gets that from his mother."

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