Eric Berry says the Vanderbilt and Kentucky games will be a tribute to head coach, Phillip Fulmer, with players giving 110% on the field. Watch »
Coach Chavis talks about the Vanderbilt coaching staff, specifically head coach, Bobby Johnson. Watch »
Knowshon Moreno and Marquise Maze won’t likely believe it but there was a time when Tennessee super safety Eric Berry didn’t like to hit.
“I had to catch my tackling up,” Berry said. “Back in little league, we did a tackling circuit everyday because I really wasn’t that good at tackling and didn’t like contact until I was about 12.”
For all the readers out there (especially Moreno and Maze, two of the many players who have caught a full-fledged Berry hit this season), it’s hard to imagine Berry not being a hard hitter.
Such was the case, Berry said, until he figured out the key to being a great hitter. (Young players take note.)
“Everybody can hit,” Berry said. “It’s just a matter of just throwing your body in there at a pretty fast rate. I guess you’ve just got to put away the fear and run into something full speed to figure it out.”
Berry’s father/little league coach tried to eliminate the fear by lining up his son in tackling drills against linemen.
However, it took Berry’s performance in a game to finally overcome the fear in one transcendent moment.
Berry remembers it well. It happened against his little league archrival with playoff survival on the line.
Just 12-years-old, Berry was striding towards the goal line with a defense bearing down and only one defender in his path.
“There wasn’t any running away from it because I couldn’t go out of bounds,” Berry said recalling the moment. “I just had to lower my shoulder and try to get into the end zone. That’s what happened.
“I put him on his back.”
The opposition and the fans in attendance took note.
“After the game, my cousin told me it looked like I told everybody not to touch me anymore on that play,” Berry said. “Nobody would touch me on defense or offense.”
Oddly enough, the hit came while Berry was playing quarterback, which he may do this week against Vanderbilt.
“I’m getting kind of anxious about it,” Berry said. “Hopefully they call my number in the game. If they don’t, it’s totally fine. But it will be nice to get on that side of the ball.”
On his side of the ball, Berry doesn’t fit the mold that so many safeties do. He’s not just a run-stopper. He’s not just a great pass defender. He’s both.
Neither defensive coordinator John Chavis nor Berry can determine where Berry is better - against the run or the pass.
“I don’t even have an answer,” Berry said. “I really don’t know.”
But which type of big play does Berry prefer? An interception or a bit hit.
“It’s pretty hard,” Berry said. “From a big hit, you get the respect from the offensive players. They’re always looking for you, particularly the running backs or the wide receivers.
“When you get an interception, you pretty much get the respect from a quarterback.”
Berry struggles to pick his favorite defensive plays, but not to pick his least favorite. Surprisingly, he most dislikes interception returns for a touchdown.
“I hate pick sixes,” Berry said. “I hate them. You have to come right back on the field. I do like them, but I don’t like them.”
Does that mean Berry is most vulnerable after he’s turned in a game changing interception for a touchdown.
“Nah, don’t do it,” he said. “I’ll come out before I’m dead tired.”
And don’t expect Berry to pass up a big hit. Not since that 12-year-old decided to charge into the end zone. Not since a tough player was born from, well, a soft mindset.
“Nah, he wasn’t soft,” Berry said of his former self. “Let’s clarify that. He wasn’t soft.
“He just didn’t know he could hit.”