His two years of college have gone by the way Eric Berry plays - fast.
Just two years ago, during Tennessee's summer workouts, he was the acclaimed freshman determined to prove he was ready to make the transition from high school to college without breaking stride. Now, he's the face of UT football, an All-American safety for whom his school is expected to announce a Heisman Trophy campaign before his junior season.
As he addressed the local media following Tuesday's workout, Berry seemed as comfortable in the poster-player role as he was as the freshman who aspired to have an immediate impact in the SEC.
Eric Berry - 'The face of Tennessee'
That's the first thing I noticed about Berry as a freshman, he was so comfortable - from his first interview to his first tackle. If freshmen had been allowed to speak to the media regularly, Berry could have been the team spokesman by the season opener.
He not only plays the right way. He says all the right things.
Asked about a Heisman campaign, he said, "I'm just trying to focus on the season. But I can handle it."
Last year, he also could handle being a first-team All-American on a 5-7 team. Don't underestimate the difficulty in that. While his team was being ripped and ridiculed, he was being lauded as one of the best players in the country, and as one of the best players in school history. Despite standing out on the field, he remained one of the guys.
"It's not a problem," he said. "My roommates (four teammates) motivate me to get all my awards. They don't let me get bigheaded. That's all you could ask for out of friends. There's no jealousy there."
Berry recalled a play against Georgia last season when he intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass, then took off on one of those returns that invariably wound up at least 40 yards downfield and in his highlight archives. When he returned to the sideline, he received mixed reviews from teammate and roommate Savion Frazier.
"Savion was like, 'That was a good pick, but you let the quarterback tackle you,' " Berry said.
Frazier prescribed a front-lawn workout as soon as they returned home: "We'll have you working on your jukes, then we're going to get you in the end zone."
In fact, Berry doesn't need much work on his jukes or anything else. In two seasons, he has returned 12 interceptions for 487 yards. And his hits have been as big as his interceptions. Don't take my word for it. Ask Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno.
Berry's career has been distinguished by individual honors and highlights like the spectacular sideline hit on Moreno. He has won the respect of opponents as well as teammates.
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was asked this off-season to name the best player in the SEC that wasn't on his team. He picked Berry.
"That's a big compliment," Berry said. "He's a Heisman Trophy winner and has won national championships. I truly respect that.
"I never thought he would think of me like that. That's pretty cool."
Berry didn't have to play a game to win over his UT teammates. He did so in the summer before his freshman season.
"In the first workout, we were in this group together," linebacker Rico McCoy said. "This dude was working like he had been here for years.
"He was working to be first place in every drill. He never let up. He's been like that since day one."
Quarterback Nick Stephens vividly remembers his first Eric Berry moment. He was watching a seven-on-seven drill in which quarterback Erik Ainge seemingly had wide receiver Lucas Taylor open for a touchdown pass.
"All of a sudden, Eric Berry comes out of nowhere and picks it off," Stephens said. "There was dead silence."
The consensus: "Oh my gosh, this guy is gonna be good."
Those first impressions are now bolstered by two seasons of brilliant play. And since Berry projects as a surefire first-round NFL draft pick, his third college season could be his last. But don't assume he has nothing to prove.
He wants to prove something with his team.
"People have to realize we have a lot of talent on this team," he said. "We had a (5-7) season (last year). It makes me mad that people say I'm the only one on the field.
"We just have to shock the world this season and prove everyone wrong."
That's what you would expect from the player who has spent his college career proving everyone right.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.