The individual numbers may have been down. The votes were up.
Already an All-America and first-team All-SEC again, Eric Berry picked up his first personal award of the offseason, and it was a major one.
The Tennessee safety was named the Jim Thorpe Award winner on Thursday night at Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., during the College Football Awards Show on ESPN. And before he could even pick up the trophy honoring the nation’s best defensive back, the assumption the junior would go pro was broadcast nationally.
“I’m going to really miss the fans,” Berry said in response to a question from host Chris Fowler. “The fans were always into the game whether we won or lost, they always stuck by us.”
It’s a safe bet that Berry won’t be sticking around with the Vols for much longer, though there hasn’t been any sort of official announcement yet.
His legacy at UT is already secure either way, and with that in mind he was also asked how it felt to draw comparisons to former Vols like Peyton Manning and Reggie White.
“I really can’t believe it when they put me in that group,” Berry said. “Those are outstanding players, and I just don’t see myself in that category or have proved as much as those guys yet.
“I’m just going to keep playing my part in football and see where it takes me.”
Joe Haden of Florida and Earl Thomas of Texas were the two other finalists.