Eric Berry talks about Georgia
Eric Berry wants to do everything he can to beat Georgia on Saturday.
Soon, however, the Tennessee junior safety will do everything he can to help out people living there.
Berry's longing to help his hometown of Fairburn, Ga., was never more evident than when he spoke of three friends who were killed in unrelated incidents last summer.
Berry said one friend was doing something he wasn't supposed to be doing, likely drug-related, and was shot in the face. Another was shot four or five times while at his home.
"Sometimes you just really have to appreciate what you're doing, just really cherish what you're doing because you never know what can happen," Berry said. "We were the same age. These are guys I played high school with."
Berry feels that sort of appreciation every time he makes a play for the Vols. That's why he'll be seen pointing to the heavens after each big play Saturday against Georgia (TV: WVLT, 12:21 p.m.)
He's thankful, in part, because he knows that he has escaped the bad elements that are ruining his hometown.
"That whole area is starting to get bad," Berry said.
He thinks that renovations - or demolition - to a downtown Atlanta housing project has the less fortunate fleeing to suburbs like Fairburn.
"It's starting to cause a lot of mayhem out there," Berry said, "a lot of craziness going on."
Berry is 230 miles north of his hometown, but his heart has never been far away. He's already thought of ways to make Fairburn a better, safer place.
"That's been one of my goals," he said. "That's what I really want to do, is go back home and really get in touch with the youth and talk to them and get them a center where they can actually go to, to keep them off the streets."
An Eric Berry Community Center could soon be in the works, especially if Berry forgoes his senior season at UT to enter the NFL draft, as most expect. With those NFL riches, Berry could help Fairburn, unlike the unnamed few he believes haven't made an effort.
"Drugs and violence down there are getting out of hand," Berry said. "I think somebody really needs to do something about it.
"There are a lot of people that are in that position that come from Fairburn that could help out. Right now nobody is really doing that. They're not using their power to help out there. That's one of the main things I want to do when I do get out of here."
Berry travels to Fairburn when he can. Yet he knows fame has a cost.
There have been times when he feels like he's been targeted by someone who wants to prove he's as tough as an All-America safety.
"That's wherever you go," Berry said, "but at the same time I feel like I do need to go back and talk to the kids and show my face around there because that's where I'm from.
"I'm not going to forget where I'm from. I'm not going to forget where I came from. What I went through there helped me become what I am today.
"Wherever you go, you're going to have somebody that's going to have a target on you. But I just feel like that's something you have to do with your hometown."
Even among a suburb full of talented athletes, Berry is the star. He's the former Creekside High School quarterback/defensive back who went on to make Fairburn proud.
His friends act as such. They're there to insulate and protect Berry. One friend in particular brings some girth that can quickly end an argument before it escalates.
South Carolina offensive lineman Rokevious Watkins stands 6-foot-4, 340 pounds.
"He's a pretty big guy," Berry said with a smile. "He won't let anybody mess with me. He would never let me fight because he knows what that would do to my name.
"He would never let me fight. He would never let me retaliate."
That's good news for the Vols - and better news for Fairburn.