When I saw Eric Berry's picture on the cover of a preseason college football magazine, I thought about the Heisman Trophy.
I realize that's quite a leap, particularly since the Heisman is best known in these parts as the award Tennessee's Peyton Manning didn't win. Moreover, it's not as though the cover will be seen nationwide. It was a regional cover for Athlon's SEC preseason football magazine.
So why did I make the connection between Berry and the Heisman?
Maybe it's because Berry is the best Heisman candidate UT has had since Manning departed for NFL superstardom after the 1997 season.
Do I think Berry can win the award? No.
Do I think he's worthy of a Heisman promotion? Yes.
It's the aim-high principle. Although you fall short of the Heisman, you could hit the Jim Thorpe award, given annually to the nation's best defensive back.
UT players have won as many Thorpe awards as they have Heisman's. The difference is the Thorpe award - like so many of the position awards - hasn't been around for long.
Judging from UT's track record with individual awards, it's much easier to be a top-10 draft pick. Manning won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award, given to the best senior quarterback, in 1997. UT defensive linemen Steve DeLong and John Henderson have won the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation's top interior lineman.
But the Vols haven't had a Thorpe winner or Dick Butkus (linebacker) winner or Ted Hendricks (defensive end) winner. Name one of the position awards - most of which were instituted this decade - and UT probably hasn't won it.
With a little promotional help, Berry could change that.
Last year as a freshman, he flashed the kind of potential that only a handful of Vols - Manning, Chuck Webb, Carl Pickens and Jamal Lewis - did in the 20-plus years I've been following the program on a regular basis. He also won the respect of his veteran teammates long before he became a freshman All-American defensive back. They were talking him up before he played his first college game.
A year later, he appears to be a team leader as well as the team's best player. And it doesn't hurt that he's a good interview with a good storyline. His father, James Berry, is a former UT running back and team captain. In the Athlon story by News Sentinel sportswriter Mike Griffith, the elder Berry told how his son became a student of the game by watching videotape of his youth-league games.
As if Berry doesn't have enough going for him, check out his smile on the Athlon cover. Has anyone ever looked happier holding a football?
UT coaches should take the hint. As good as Berry is in the secondary, he also could help the Vols on offense if his coaches should choose to get creative. He didn't total 222 yards on five interceptions last year just because offensive players are inept tacklers.
But you don't make someone a two-way player to help him win an individual award. As Charles Woodson would tell you, that's just a positive side effect.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.