Tennessee Vols' Berry brothers blazing their 'own path'

Tennessee Vols' Berry brothers blazing their 'own path'

July 23rd, 2014 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Elliot Berry

Elliot Berry

Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Times Free Press.

Evan Berry

Evan Berry

Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - Their father set the standard.

Then their older brother raised the bar higher.

For Elliott and Evan Berry, though, there's not as much name-driven pressure as you might expect.

The Tennessee freshman defensive backs are continuing a family legacy that began when their father, James Berry, ran for more than 1,700 yards and scored 19 rushing touchdowns for the Volunteers from 1978 to 1981 and continued when brother Eric became the program's last superstar from 2007 to 2009.

The Berry twins, as they've been known since Eric was a big-time recruit seven years ago, want to make their own name.

"I don't really experience any pressure," Evan Berry said last week. "My dad told me that I'm the only person that can put pressure on myself. It's just playing football, doing what I love, so the last-name thing, it doesn't really put pressure on me."

Evan is a 5-foot-11, 195-pound former four-star recruit working at cornerback, and Elliott was a three-star prospect who will start his college career at nickelback at 6-foot and 208 pounds. They were part of a Georgia state championship team at Fairburn's Creekside High School in 2013. Evan was the state's Class AAAAA 100-meter dash champion last spring, too.

They arrived on campus earlier this summer to much less fanfare than Eric, now a three-time Pro Bowl safety for the Kansas City Chiefs, did as a freshman in 2007.

He was a five-star recruit ranked third overall in his class by Rivals.com and went on to live up to the hype with which he arrived in Knoxville. He led all SEC freshmen in tackles in 2007, earned SEC defensive player of the year honors with a seven-interception season in 2008 and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back in 2009.

The twins were in middle school during Eric's Tennessee career, and both claim they don't talk about trying to match his or their dad's exploits.

"That's not really on my mind," Elliott said. "I'm just trying to do the best that I can do. It's just one of those things that's understood. My dad would just say, 'Do the best that you can do,' so I just worry about me.

"My name is not Eric, either. I feel like I already make my own path. It's just it is going to be positive or negative."

Numerically, though, the twins are connecting themselves to their older brother.

Evan will wear No. 29, the number Eric wears for the Chiefs to honor former Tennessee defensive back Inky Johnson, whose football career was ended by a neck injury in 2006, and Elliott will wear No. 41, the inverse of Eric's college number.

The two committed to the Vols last November, two days after Tennessee's 31-3 loss at Missouri, and Evan shared the news with Eric via text message.

"He was obviously proud," Evan said. "I wish I could have seen his facial expression."

Elliott recalled his spring break as a sixth-grader, when he stayed on campus with Eric and followed him to classes and practices during the week.

"I didn't really think it was a big deal," he said. "I was just like, 'OK, this is my brother. I'm with my brother today.'

"To be honest with you," he added, "I always felt like I would come to Tennessee. I just wanted to make sure I was 100 percent sure that this is where I wanted to be. I was always kind of sure that this was where I was going to end up."

The Berry brothers will have opportunities to make an impact in what's become a crowded secondary when Tennessee starts preseason practice Aug. 1, and though they'll be pushed by a handful of other freshmen, they'll push each other with a friendly wager for the season.

The stakes are who forces the most turnovers in 2014.

The prize? Bragging rights.

"It's a great way to compete and be great," Evan said, "so might as well make fun out of it."

Elliott admitted his welcome-to-college-football moment hit him on the first day of Tennessee's workouts and conceded he battled some "freshman jitters" earlier in the summer.

And those nerves likely had nothing to do with his last name.

"Right now," he said, "I'm just working hard to make sure to take care of all the things that I can control to give myself the best opportunity to be in a good position going into my freshman year."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.