From the moment that Eric Berry committed to Tennessee on a Sunday morning in mid-December of 2006, he has made Vol fans extremely proud. A very successful and record breaking career on Rocky Top ended after just three seasons. He took his talents to the NFL and his first year with the Kansas City Chiefs was a "successful" learning experience.
"I felt like it went pretty good," Berry said. "I learned a lot. I'll tell you that much. I made some mistakes, but I learned from them. It was a struggle at first just accepting the fact that you are going to get beat on some plays. I wasn't used to that. I found out in the NFL, that's going to happen and it's just about how you bounce back."
The two-time unanimous All-American loved every part of the college experience. He embraced the traditions that his father and former Vol James taught him growing up. He also made the fans a priority. Berry signed autographs religiously after games. He made sure that the Tennessee faithful knew that he appreciated them as much as they did him. Making the move to the next level was made easier because the Kansas City fans are arguably the most passionate fans in the NFL.
"Arrowhead is a lot like Neyland," Berry said. "The Kansas City fanbase is a lot like it is here at Tennessee. When I got out there on the field it was a lot like Neyland, but it was red. The energy they brought to the field and to the stadium, I couldn't do anything but be happy about that."
A Berry interception, fumble recovery, or big hit has always been only a play away. After a learning curve in the NFL, he says that things started to make sense during the seventh game of his rookie campaign.
"When we played the Jaguars," Berry said. "I just felt like I came into my own and got more comfortable. I don't know, but it was like something clicked in the middle of the game. I think I had a pick, forced fumble, ten tackles and three P.B.U's."
Berry was also able to lean on other rookies.
"That made it easier because you got someone on your own team that's going through the same thing," Berry said. "You talk to them about stuff that is going on and what they are going through. We helped each other through the entire process."
The SEC's leader in interception return yardage still talks to several players on the Tennessee team. He misses his orange clad teammates and he noticed their absence every time he returned back to his Kansas City home.
"That was the biggest transition that I had to deal with," Berry said. "I'm used to having three or four roomates and now I'm living by myself. I'm used to seeing those guys every day. They were like brothers. We did everything together. I got real homesick."
One player on Tennessee's roster that has been compared to Berry is Vol safety Janzen Jackson. Unlike Berry, Jackson has run into problems off the field. Berry set down with Jackson earlier this spring and just tried to put things in perspective for the very talented Vol junior.
"The last time I talked to J was when I came for the spring game," Berry said. "I talked to him face to face and I just told him to keep his head up. Just do whatever he has to do to get back on the field. This is a big opportunity for him and there are a lot of people that would love to be in his shoes right now as far as playing football and doing something they love to do at the University of Tennessee. The example I always use is Inky Johnson. He'd do anything to be out there on the field again. (Janzen) has all the talent in the world and he just needs to take advantage of it.
"I told him what I felt. I hope (it soaked in). He'll bounce back. A lot of people don't understand the pressures of being an 18 or 19 year old in college. I think if everyone comes in and supports him and stops pointing the finger then it will help."
One thing that the Vols have going in their favor is stability. It's the first time since the 2008 season that a head coach will return.
"I think that does a lot for a program just having a coach that you know is going to be there," Berry said. "You don't have to always learn a new system. He has a system in place and the guys continue to learn that. It's not like they are going to have to wipe the slate clean and start over."
An avid tweeter, Berry recently tweeted a pic of himself standing between his twin brothers Elliot and Evan. The younger Berry brothers are not only bigger, but some project them to be better at this stage. Make no mistake though, Eric is still the best Berry.
"I tried to jump on my dad one time when I was 17 or 18 and it didn't go well," Berry said. "I think Elliot always tries to tussle with me, but I always put him in his place. Evan won't do it. He just says that he's the fastest Berry.
"I just tell them like my dad told me. There is no pressure. I tell them if they want to be like me, then take it to another level. They don't have to follow in my footsteps. I don't want them to let people put that label on them as Eric Berry's little brother. I want them to make a name for themselves. I'm proud of them. They are making good grades and that's what I'm most proud of. They handle themselves like professionals."
A professional is exactly how to describe a very mature, but still young Pro-Bowl safety. A player with the same character and charisma that's been on showcase to Tennesseans since that Sunday morning in mid-December of 2006.