Tackling 'T' question: Berry might be playing last game at Neyland

Tennessee cornerback Eric Berry (14) is congratulated by head coach Lane Kiffin after an interception against Memphis on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009 at Neyland Stadium. Coach Kiffin later said that he mistakenly thought Berry broke the NCAA interception record with that interception, he has one more to go.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Tennessee cornerback Eric Berry (14) is congratulated by head coach Lane Kiffin after an interception against Memphis on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009 at Neyland Stadium. Coach Kiffin later said that he mistakenly thought Berry broke the NCAA interception record with that interception, he has one more to go.

Eric Berry is in a decision-making dry run.

His coach has signed off either way.

His teammates are supportive no matter what happens.

And the Tennessee safety has a family that's letting him make up his own mind.

No part of that formula figures to change for the Vols star whether he's deciding to run through the "T" tonight (TV: ESPNU, 7 p.m.) for the last time against Vanderbilt or officially declaring for the NFL draft sometime after the season. Any number of factors and influences might weigh on Berry, but he'll be the one calling the shots.

"It is a very tough decision to make, and it's just so hard because you know if you stay in school you can go ahead and get that degree out of the way, you've got all these fans that love you," Berry said. "We've got all these NFL coaches on our team and they always tell us that on the next level it's not going to be the same. You're not going to have the fans like this, you're not going to have support like this. That's always in the back of my mind at times.

"But I know my family situation, I know what they're going through, and it's really hard to figure out what you want to do."

The situation at home coupled with his stock as one of the most talented players in the country has long made the decision to go pro seem like a foregone conclusion, though Berry has gone out of his way to keep the attention only on the Vols (5-5, 2-4 SEC) and this season.

That's been a bigger challenge with the possibility the Commodores (2-9, 0-7) might be the last team he ever plays at Neyland Stadium looming, but nobody else has complicated things for him.

UT coach Lane Kiffin publicly gave Berry permission to take part in Senior Night celebrations if he wanted, and though he has occasionally joked about having him back next year, there haven't been any real conversations about it.

His teammates have made it clear they have no problem with whatever he decides, and all season long he's received nothing but high praise from the locker room.

The Berry family has also stuck to the plan and hasn't addressed the future with him during the season, and his father James Berry also stressed this week that any issues at home have been overblown despite his short-term disability and mom Carol's being laid off a year ago.

"By no means are we leaning on Eric and telling him he's got to go and do something to help support us," James Berry said. "We've had a financial plan way before we would have thought about having Eric go out and do other things because we have other kids to raise. Eric's not the only kid we have to raise.

"It's not like we're saying, 'Once Eric gets there then we're just going to lay back and wait for Eric to support us.' By no means are we depending on him to do that. It's great that he has the opportunity in front of him to do well, but living is not hard for us."

That could make decision-making somewhat easier for perhaps the nation's best safety, though that's obviously not the only consideration.

The family took out an insurance policy against a career-ending injury before the season, though multiple players who turned down the NFL to go back to school last year likely cost themselves millions of dollars in the process - including injured Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford of Oklahoma.

Kiffin seems to have laid the foundation for the Vols to return to prominence, but there's no guarantee it would happen with Berry back for a senior season given the number of losses they will suffer at other positions.

But everything from labor issues to another chance to work with an NFL-caliber staff while in college are problems for another day.

"My mom always tells me, 'I don't want you to feel like you have to do something for us. Do what's best for you,' " Berry said. "That helps me out a lot, and the thing is, she's just been really straightforward with me, telling me how everything is - but sometimes she doesn't tell me everything that's going on because she knows how I am about her.

"But right now I'm just focusing on everything I can do to get this win at home, no telling if it might be my last or it's not. I just want to take everything in and try to appreciate these last games of the season."

Then Berry can start the process for real.

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Comments » 63

jayrokey writes:

Good luck to you in the pros EB! It won't be long and we'll have another Berry to cheer for!

Psychovol writes:

What a great family and it shows with how EB conducts himself on and off the field.

Loud_Proud writes:

Eric, do what you need to do, and have Sam Bradford in the back of your head.

Cjtgovols09 writes:

For selfish reasons I want him to come back. He is one of the all time great student athletes and it has been a pleasure watching him play. Whatever the decision, good luck and thanks for the hard work and leadership you have given this team.

sampears writes:

Please just go EB... we love you too much to keep you....if he got hurt it might be too much...thanks for everything. You helped lay the ground work, the hardest part, thanks again! GO VOLS!

RoadTrip writes:

We have seen one of the very best, if not the best, QB's in football history play out his career on the Hill. We have now seen the same out of Eric. If you go pro now, we wish you the best and hope you can get to Peyton's level in your pro career. If you stay, which the selfish part of us wants to see, you will be written into Vol history like Peyton, Johnny Majors, etc. Either way you can't lose and you have the Vol Nation cheering you on.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Go and play.

You've given your all for the Vols.

Thanks again for the memories.

the10sevol writes:

sign the twins now, today, both of them. let the ncaa put us on probation for 3 years, we'll be rebuilding for two of them, anyway.

do not let this Vol legacy stop with James and Eric. God bless the Berry family and the Vols.

GBO

VolFanFtl writes:

With a family as strong as his, how could Eric not go pro and make life better for all of them.

This sounds like a model family.

The future is very bright for Eric. All the best!

jcoop9909 writes:

I would love to see 14 come back next year. But i wont blame him if he leaves. Whoever drafts him will be one of my new favorite NFL teams. Once a Vol always a Vol. I support Eric Berry no matter what

cdtvol writes:

EB has delivered many tremendous HITS !!!! would love to have him back and more so see him in a Colts uniform(wishful thinking).... only the best for your future EB

USNVOL writes:

Either way EB,go or stay we are behind you all the way!
You will always be one of the very best to play at Tennessee,thanks for the memories.
Go Big Orange,Beat the Dores!

TDTenn writes:

Eric, I know you don't know this, but you and I teamed up to get my wife into loving Tennessee football. I'll always remember what you've accomplished at Tennessee.

FearTheVols1252 writes:

If you do go pro, I'm hoping you end up on the Titans staff... would love to keep you in the great state of Tennessee! :)

chad_t31 writes:

I'm changing my last name to berry. Seriously though, whichever way he chooses, I can't blame him. Good luck 14. So when does construction begin on putting his name on the facade (sic?) in neyland? No one will wear that number again, period.

DennisVols writes:

There are just a few players, in any sport, that have the talent and the class Eric Berry has. Eric has not just represented UT with his massive talent, he has represented UT with his massive class. He has mentored the younger players this year in which some of the biggest changes in this football program have ever happened.
Few would have said that a Kiffin lead team could have competed against UF or Bama this year especially on their home turf. It has been the leadership Berry has brought to this program that lead this year’s defense to come together under a new DC for the first time in more than a decade. It is Berry’s promotion of this program that is leading to some of the top defensive H.S. players making the decision to come to UT.
If this is Berry’s last year at UT it will not be as easy as just replacing a great defensive star. Replacing the man, the class and dedication, that has been a standard few could ever come close to meeting will be nearly impossible.
Keeping it Real
Go Vols!!!

HallowedHill writes:

Either way, it's been a heck of a ride. Thanks for being a VOL! Good luck to you, Eric Berry, in whatever you decide to do.

GO VOLS!

HallowedHill writes:

When can we expect a street name?

Eric Berry Blvd?

the10sevol writes:

in response to Tellico_Vol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

most, if not all, pro draft geeks have eb in the top 5, if not the top 3.

don't forget tampa should be among those likely to have a chance, and they know monte pretty well, and monte has endorsed eb as a #1 pick.

having said that, if by some miracle eb comes back, he will enter the '10 season as the favorite for every available individual award. heck, they might even give him the davie o'brien and unitas trophies, just because.

GBO

TommyJack writes:

in response to Tellico_Vol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Not so, Tellico. He will be in the first 3 or so picked...That assures him of Millions of guaranteed bucks. Can't pass that up.

hillbillyvol writes:

eb if you go i hope you have your best game of the year against vandy and ky you and your team mates deserve a bowl game go vols.

Down_The_Field writes:

this kid's got 3 games left and i'm gonna enjoy watching him play while the "T" is still on the helmet.

i'd love to see him break the record against the peebody punks.

lshiple2 writes:

I'd love it if he came back but regardless of his decision I'll have an Eric Berry jersey again next year even if I have to buy a *shudder* Lions jersey.

EB is a class act and I hope he wins every award they give out and winds up with a bag full of Super Bowl rings to boot... even though it'd be great if he got an SECCG ring and an NC ring to go along with them next year.

rubbervol writes:

Love ya Eric thanks for being a Vol.No matter what you do you have made us all proud.

Vols4Ever writes:

Eric Berry has earned the respect of true Vol fans and devotees of the college game. He is as much a legend as Doug Atkins, Reggie White, Bob Suffridge, Jack Reynolds et. al. in VOL defensive history. He is class and deserves everything that will come his way. However, the singular run through the "T" is for Seniors. His play, his leadership, his devotion to the team more than exceeds the qualifications for the honor than many before him, but he hasn't acquired the one trait that grants one the honor to be part of that tradition of over 100 years of Volunteers.

LK, after we are destroying the pretenders from Neyland West, take him out of the game like one would in basketball to receive his earned honor from the fans.

murrayvol writes:

You've done enough young man.

Now go get rich. You've earned it.

We're gonna miss you....a lot.

We'll always leave the light on for you.

huntined#565710 writes:

Guess you can best describe EB as just a CLASS ACT PERIOD. It has been great having him as a VOL..Whatever HE decides to do I know it will be the right decision..

Vol_in_exile writes:

It would be great to see him return, but I don't see how it can be worth the risk of getting hurt. A serious injury in his senior year would cast a cloud over his value to a pro team that he doens't have today, leaving him with something to prove. Even if his parents weren't a factor, I don't see how it isn't in his best interest to go.

Good luck in your decision-making, Mr Berry. Best wishes whatever you choose and thanks for the big contributions to the Vols!

ArealVolFan writes:

in response to Tellico_Vol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Dude, you are absolutely right, if Berry was a 3rd rounder he would need to stay....However, you are completely, utterly, unimaginably WRONG about him being a 3rd rounder. 3rd overall, maybe. Top 10 def. Seriously, Berry would have been a first rounder after LAST YEAR. It obvious you don't know much about football. No, I'm not ragging on you if you don't really but it is still kind of stunning. Just because his interceptions aren't there does not mean he is worse. He is playing essentially as a LB, not a Safety. If anything this speaks to how talented and versatile he really is.Berry is gone, he is too talented and with the salary cap issues in the NFL are going to lead him to go. No way around it, unless he just wants to come back. It would be a dumb decision though, he could be hurt and its not like UT will be contending for a championship next year. He needs to go on and get his money while the getting is good!

OldNumber7 writes:

Eric, all I can offer is that money won't buy you happiness, and milk everything out of youth you can - for once you close a chapter it is gone. These are the best years of your life. It is a tough decision - good luck.

cloudodust writes:

Lou Holtz, love him or hate him, put the issue of leaving early for the NFL or persuing a degree and doing both into perspective. He weighed out the pros and cons with the guys. Ultimately, they do what's best for them...The injury factor is a roll of the dice every time a player suits up but it's not a factor that goes through their heads. If it does, you're screwed. Remember, Peyton Manning graduated early and stuck around to hone his skills. Apples and oranges, right..? Most of us have an idea what EB will do.

cloudodust writes:

...and one more thing : Whatever EB does and wherever EB goes, somebody gets a ton of character with the EB package. He has done good for Tennessee in many, many ways...

VOLFORLIFE writes:

in response to DennisVols:

There are just a few players, in any sport, that have the talent and the class Eric Berry has. Eric has not just represented UT with his massive talent, he has represented UT with his massive class. He has mentored the younger players this year in which some of the biggest changes in this football program have ever happened.
Few would have said that a Kiffin lead team could have competed against UF or Bama this year especially on their home turf. It has been the leadership Berry has brought to this program that lead this year’s defense to come together under a new DC for the first time in more than a decade. It is Berry’s promotion of this program that is leading to some of the top defensive H.S. players making the decision to come to UT.
If this is Berry’s last year at UT it will not be as easy as just replacing a great defensive star. Replacing the man, the class and dedication, that has been a standard few could ever come close to meeting will be nearly impossible.
Keeping it Real
Go Vols!!!

Dennis, the best post I've seen in summing up Eric Berry and his value to this team...especially the part about the class the young man brings. Not nearly as long as some of your more recent posts...lol...but straight and to the point. I couldn't agree more with what you said.

Thanks for the post, and thanks to a genuinely fine young man for the memories he has generated for all true Vols fans.

GO VOLS!!!
JUGHEAD

Slimjim_Vols writes:

Berry to me is utterly amazing. He is Ronnie Lott, Rod Woodson, Ed Reed, and Deion Sanders all in one. The man will just take the ball like Woodson, Has the determination and desire to win and make hits like Lott, Shows his value to his team like Reed, and has the speed of Deion!

EB whatever you decide you know that VOLNATION is behind you 100%........ With that said, Berry we want you back. Senior years are the best, ask Peyton. You are more than just a player to us fans who only know you for a few short hours every Saturday, you are truly a VOL IMMORTAL! There are numbers in the VOL history that leads to 1 player in everyones minds from 16,92, and 27........... but now there is 14........ It will always say 14 Berry in the ring, but more importantly it will always say 14 Berry in our HEARTS!

1 MORE YEAR! Berry! 1 MORE YEAR! <clap clap>

GDub writes:

Eric, It really depends on what you want... Money or Experience.

As an NFL football player you have a fixed career length that your body can participate. You play another year of college, that's one less year of making a million. Plus you risk injury and maybe even the loss of more than 1 year.

But, money isn't everything to everybody. You won't find the NFL experience to be as enjoyable and fun and you won't be as beloved by the fans like you are at UT. You are on the verge of becoming a legend at Tennessee. The NFL can be a cold and cruel business (just ask Coach).

You'll enjoy the money next year, but at the end of your career, you'll reflect on the college experience. Either way, Vol fans around the globe will support you for the rest of your life. You and your family are one class act. We hope you buy more insurance :)

Ringside writes:

I would to see you return, but do what is best for you and your family. I hope it is the first round if you go. Best wishes and thanks for being a Vol!

orangegrass writes:

If he returns, will he be an icon like Peyton? Will they name a street after him?

GDub writes:

in response to orangegrass:

If he returns, will he be an icon like Peyton? Will they name a street after him?

I'm thinking Berry Boulevard or how about Berry Lane :)

GerryOP writes:

Eric, we love ya' dude. Do what is best for you.

ULTIMATEVOLUNTEER writes:

in response to Tellico_Vol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

WAKE UP dude. Todd Mcshay has Eric #1, Mel Kiper #2 on the board. The first team needing a defensive player will draft Berry.

volnbig11land writes:

Good luck EB and thanks for everything you've done (and may do in the future).

Now go out there today and break the record at home!

Go Vols!!

volatil writes:

Eric Berry is a Vol, and will always be a Vol in my mind. After reading this, he is also a true man! Whatever he chooses I will ALWAYS be an Eric Berry fan.

tennesseebee writes:

What a great family. No wonder Eric is such a class act. I wouldn't be mad if you leave, but PLEASE stay. If we hadn't been so thin at linebacker you would have smashed some records. But you've been the model for team players. Doing what you needed to do to help your team win. If I had a Heisman vote you would have gotten it last year. I thought Heisman was supposed to be the player who most contributed to their team. If so, Eric should have 2.

tractoronthepole writes:

Wow, I am forced to forced to reflect back to Peyton's junior year. The emotions I feel are somewhat different, not about the player (as I love them both) but about the situation. I don't believe their is a bad decision either way. Eric dosen't put himself in bad situations on or off the field. Eric trust the character of young man you have displayed and never regret a moment regardless of which way you decide.

The1 writes:

EB, you are a class act as far as I can see. You have been a bright spot for the Vols Football team during some pretty bleak years. Everyone will understand and support your decision. The NFL will pay a lot and I don't know what I would do in your shoes. I have to say that I miss college (I am 45 now). I was an athlete, but not of your caliber. The thing I miss most is the camaraderie with my team mates. I wish I could go back and live some college years again man - there may be no better time in one's life. Life gets harder and harder after college. If you can stay, I say stay because you will never get to live these college years again. I suspect that's part of what drove Peyton to stay - he knew he would never have another chance to be a college senior and have that experience. You might call Peyton and Heath Shuler for advice. Two great college quarterbacks - one stayed the other left early.

mhwhite63 writes:

Notice the class act this young man is compared to the three criminals that embarrassed our program in recent weeks. Thanks for how you've represented Tennessee on and off the field and best of luck to you, young Berry - whatever you decide.

steamboatticket#484773 writes:

My favorite senior is probably Rico McCoy. That is mainly because I followed his recruitment and wanted him to play at Tennessee real bad. That is what he did, except he played really good the whole time. I have other favorites. Josh McNeil was a rock solid center for us. He and Wes Brown both gave up their knees. You gotta love those guys, always. And I remember Hardesty as a freshman; who can forget watching him break out of that pile with a high strut sprint? We've had a lot of great RBs at Tennessee. I'll always remember Hardesty. He's having a great year. I think that we'll be seeing him on Sundays, and Jon Crompton too. This senior class has so much courage. I don't much believe in heroes, because nobody knows what he will do or not do in that split-second moment. But I think that Jon Crompton is a true Tennessee hero. We got one DT who has meant the world to us this season. Hope he goes to a good team. Don't care if he goes first or last round, as long as he finds another good home with great guys around him. The really cool thing is that all these guys will always have a home in the neighborhood of any Tennessee fan. I live in Florida on the beach, and there is a lot open by me. I am not a realtor, but it would be so good if any one of these guys could get down here. Is G-dub a senior? We are going to miss our graduating offensive linemen. I wish that I could be in Knoxville today to cheer all of our players. I love this class of seniors. Berry looks like a senior. We need to get some new word for class.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Tellico_Vol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Third ROUND??? Are you serious, TV? Do you really believe pro personnel people might think there are SIXTY-SOMETHING better players than Berry available this year? I have agreed with you on some things and not on others, but, DANG! Unless a team already has an all-pro safety in the prime of his career, it would have to have a LOT of other holes to plug not to take Berry. Any team that passed him up more than once OUGHT to be looking for a new GM the day after the draft is over. Third ROUND? DANG! If I may ask, what do you know that apparently no one else connected with pro football knows to cause them not to want Berry as much as anybody else out there?

johnlg00 writes:

in response to GDub:

I'm thinking Berry Boulevard or how about Berry Lane :)

Good ones, GDub, but I think "Berry Lane" has a nicer ring to it.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Tellico_Vol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

That's pretty cynical. I agree that James wasn't all THAT as a Vol but he deserves more respect than you seem to be giving him. Do you really think James just made up that bit about being disabled and losing his job? Well,...OK then.... Just curious; did he screw you in a land deal, take your woman, or sell you a bad used car?

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