When Eric Berry took the practice field for the Kansas City Chiefs this week, he began the final phase of living up to his idol's legacy.
It's hard to imagine Berry - an All-American deemed a surefire NFL star - held a player in such a high regard not that long ago.
Yet he did just that.
While at Tennessee, Berry never hid his admiration for former Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor, who was killed by intruders in his home on Nov. 27, 2007.
"I loved the way he played the game," Berry said.
Berry's obsession with football often centered around Taylor, one of the rare safeties who could play the pass and run equally (and dominantly) well.
Berry, who was selected by the Chiefs with the fifth pick in the NFL draft last week, didn't need to be reminded that Taylor went in the same No. 5 slot, in 2004.
"I'm aware of that, very much aware of that," Berry said. "Man, that's pretty cool, especially the way I looked up to him, not just the way he played on the field in the NFL, but he did it since he was in college."
Taylor, like Berry, was an All-American who took interest in players who dominated the game from the defensive backfield. The late Pro Bowler made plans to meet with Berry before tragedy struck.
"I never met him," Berry lamented. "I talked with him before he got killed. I was very upset about that.
"We were getting ready to build a relationship. He was going to help me along the way I guess you could say. It was kind of crazy. It was messed up what happened."
Berry won't soon forget the impact Taylor had from afar. Neither will history.
The duo are two of the five safeties selected in the top five of the NFL draft since 1980.
"The only reason I'm in this situation is because of those guys," Berry said. "People have been seeing what top picks at safety have been doing on the field and how they've been able to change the game.
"I think a lot of that credit goes to them. I take a lot of pride in it. I'll try to follow in their footsteps and take it a little bit farther, too."
Berry respects them all, but Taylor stands out.
"I've just been trying to follow in his footsteps," Berry said, "and it seems like I'm pretty much on course right now."
On-Field Face Off: Berry will face one of his great nemesis in the Chiefs' practices. Berry has long said that he ranks former Ole Miss tailback Dexter McCluster as one of the three best tailbacks he's faced, along with former Auburn tailback Ben Tate and former UT tailback Montario Hardesty.
Berry was a bit taken aback when McCluster slipped to the fourth round, allowing the Chiefs to snatch up the shifty runner.
"That's crazy. He's a helluva an athlete," said Berry, who watched McCluster account for 324 yards from scrimmage against the Vols in Oxford last November. "He's going to be a great player. With all that he did this year, not just running the ball, but catching the ball out of the backfield and lining up at wide receiver, he can do a lot of things, not just run the ball."
McCluster's draft stock was dinged when he posted a 4.58-second time in the 40-yard dash, which was 10th best among running backs in the NFL combine.
"I wasn't even worried about his 40-time, really," Berry said. "Playing with him and actually running side-by-side with him, he's a lot faster than that. That 40 time really didn't mean anything.
"When he comes on the field, he turns it up."