When you play your college football in the same conference as Tim Tebow, it can be pretty tough to get the attention you deserve – even if you pick off the Heisman Trophy winner and return it 96 yards for a touchdown.
Make no mistake about it: former Tennessee Volunteers’ safety Eric Berry is the real deal.
In 2009, he was a unanimous All-America and won the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the nation’s top defensive back. Considered by many to be the top defensive back in last April’s NFL Draft, Berry was selected fifth overall by the Kansas City Chiefs. And there is little doubt Berry will have an immediate impact in K.C.
SIKIDS.com had a chance to catch up with the sensational safety at photo shoot for the new Adidas Scorch adiZero football cleat (Berry will sport the new shoe as he strikes fear into opposing wide receivers this season). Berry talked about everything from his college experience to his expectations for the NFL….
SIKIDS.com: You lost to Virginia Tech at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in your final game as a Tennessee Vol. How tough was it to end your college career like that?
Eric: It was tough to leave on that note but at the same time it was just tough leaving period. It was a hard decision for me [to leave college early]. I had to leave a lot of lifetime friends I had made at college, not to mention the fans. The fans always showed me great support whether we lost or won. It never mattered. So it was definitely a tough decision.
SIKIDS.com: What do you think of Lane Kiffin leaving Tennessee after just one year to coach at USC?
Eric: It’s not really surprising. I mean, you see how many times coaches change teams in college. We kind of knew that’s where he wanted to be, at USC. And what can we do about that? That’s his home, that’s where he wanted to be. We can’t have any mixed feelings about it. It is kind of messed up, but at the end of the day it is what it is and there’s nothing you can really do about that.
SIKIDS.com: Who did you enjoy playing against the most in college?
Eric: Florida was always a great team to play because you knew they were going to bring their A-game. Alabama, that’s a deep-rooted rivalry but at the same time we have great respect for each other. And definitely Georgia because that’s my home state and they passed on me coming out of high school, so I loved going out and trying to do very well against them.
SIKIDS.com: Can you explain your emotions on draft day?
Eric: I really can’t put [those] emotions into words. I was just so excited. You could probably see my emotion on the stage when they called my name. It was just a lifetime dream coming true. I was just excited to actually be going to the NFL and know what team I’d be playing for after going through that whole process. And just realizing that all those workouts, all those runs at 5 in the morning, all those sprints we ran… it happened for a reason and I’m excited that it did.
SIKIDS.com: What was the first thing you bought after you got drafted?
Eric: I bought my mom a car and I’m about to buy myself a Camaro.
SIKIDS.com: You were Mel Kiper’s third-rated player in the draft and a five-star recruit coming out of high school. How do you handle all of this hype?
Eric: I don’t really pay any attention to it. I appreciate the high rankings and everything like that, but I’m never satisfied. I really just try to set my own goals. I hold myself to high standards, especially on the football field, I’ve got certain goals. I try to obtain [them] as far as going hard every play and making sure I’m a leader on the field.
SIKIDS.com: Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel won Super Bowls with the Patriots. How have you enjoyed playing for him so far during mini camps and practices?
Eric: I’ve enjoyed playing for him. I’m just trying to come in and know what I’m supposed to do on the field, make sure I know where I’m supposed to be and really just try to go out there and make plays. I just want to play my role and do my part.
SIKIDS.com: I know you looked up to the late, great Washington Redskin safety Sean Taylor. What do you see in your game that reminds you of Sean?
Eric: Just the way he played, as far as his intensity. The way he carried himself on the field. I never really saw him talk too much on the field, but his presence was still always felt. Wide receivers and running backs knew he was back there. I don’t want to say they feared him, but they knew where he was at all times. So I really just try to model my game after him and go all out every play and have that appreciation for the game that Sean had.
SIKIDS.com: What goals do you have for yourself this season as you join a team that went 4-12 last year?
Eric: I just want to come in and make sure I’m ready to play first of all. Second thing, I just want to contribute to my team. Just doing everything that’s in my power to help my team win. That’s my biggest goal.
SIKIDS.com: Why did you decide to wear the number 29 for Kansas City?
Eric: I wear 29 for one of my close friends, named Inky Johnson. He played for the University of Tennessee and he was kind of like my mentor when I played there. Whether it was on the field or off the field, he was always there for me when I was at college. [Wearing 29 is] kind of like my tribute to him. I just wanted to show him how much I appreciate him and how much he helped me with my career.