James Eric Berry (born December 29, 1988 in Fairburn, Georgia), is the current starting Strong Safety for the Tennessee Volunteers. A true freshman for the 2007 Tennessee Volunteers football team, Berry made his first appearance at nickleback against California before being named as starting safety in the following game against Southern Miss. Since then he has started every single game of his college career at strong safety. Eric Berry was named the SEC Freshmen Defensive Player of the Year and was a unanimous Freshmen All-American. As a sophmore he as named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a 2008 consensus 1st Team All-America.
High school career Edit
Berry played at Creekside High School in Fairburn, Georgia. There, he was a standout in track and football, as well as Fencing, but was cut from the JV Tennis team. In track, Berry was the anchor leg of the 2006 AAAA State Champion 4x400m relay team. Individually, he was the 2005 AAAA State Champion in the 200m. Berry played cornerback and quarterback, earning a 37-5 record as starting quarterback at Creekside. Following his stellar high school career, Berry was invited to play in the 2007 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Berry was considered the top player in Georgia and the top cornerback prospect by every recruiting service, and he was rated overall as the #3 player in the nation by Rivals.com.
College career Edit
Berry made his first appearance at nickelback against California before being named as starting safety in the following game against Southern Miss. Berry replaced fifth year senior Jarod Parrish after a strong showing in the California game. Berry turned in several big plays during his freshman season, including a 95-yard interception return for a touchdown against Florida(see video at left) en route to being named the SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year by the Sporting News. Berry had 5 interceptions along with a school-record 222 return yards. His return yardage broke a 37-year-old Tennessee record and has since broken the SEC record for career return yards. Berry led all SEC freshmen in tackles with 86. He twice was named SEC Freshman of the Week for his play over the regular season’s final three games. Berry was also named 1st team Freshman All-American by Rivals.
Berry led the nation in interceptions, with seven, and set the all-time career SEC record for interception return yards with 487 yards. Berry also set the single season SEC record interception yardage mark with 265 yards. The NCAA record for interception return yards is 501, set by Terrell Buckley of Florida State, which Berry is expected to in the upcoming 2009 season. In 2008 he also took snaps at wide receiver and quarterback on offense and as a kick returner on special teams. On defense Berry finished the season with 72 tackles, 7 interceptions, 6 pass break ups, 3 sacks, 2 touchdowns on 265 interception return yards. On offense he gained 44 rushing yards on 7 carries. On special teams he gained 32 yards on 2 returns.
Berry's early success already has some journalists speculating that he could end up being the best defensive player in Tennessee history. Eric Berry was nominated as a finalist for the 2008 Jim Thorpe Award, the Lott Trophy, and the Chuck Bednarik Award.
Berry was named the SEC Defensive Player of the year and was an unanimous 1st-Team All SEC pick. Eric Berry was also a consensus First Team All American. Berry was named the winner of the Jack Tatum Award for 2008 as well.
Berry has already been named to the 2009 All-SEC Preseason team, and will be one of the mainstays within Monte Kiffin's new defense. He is expected to set the all-time NCAA record for career return yards during the upcoming season. It has been widely speculated that his junior season will likely be his last for the Vols, as many NFL draft boards have him as a top 5 pick if he were to leave after the 2009 season.