Tennessee football's Berry twins look to create their own legacy
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee twins Elliott and Evan Berry say they don't feel extra pressure playing defense for the Volunteers, following the path of their older, successful brother.
Eric Berry starred at Tennessee from 2007-09 before getting selected in the first round of the NFL draft. He won the 2009 Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top college defensive back and earned his third Pro Bowl selection with the Kansas City Chiefs last year.
He left high standards for his younger brothers as they begin their college careers. If that's worrying the Berry twins, they aren't letting it show.
"I don't really see it as a burden," said the 6-foot, 208-pound Elliott Berry. "My dad told me a long time ago that the only time you feel pressure is when you don't know what you're doing."
Their father, James Berry, also has Tennessee roots; he played running back for the Volunteers from 1978-81. The twins are from Fairburn, Georgia, and their knowledge of Tennessee football history is evident from their uniform numbers.
Evan wears No. 29 as a tribute to Inky Johnson, a motivational speaker who suffered nerve damage in 2006 while trying to make a tackle. It also happens to be the number Eric wears with the Chiefs. Elliott selected No. 41, reversing the digits of Eric's Tennessee uniform number.
As they prepare to make their college debuts Aug. 31 against Utah State, the twins receive advice from their famous brother. He sends texts and reminds them to "build your own legacy within the legacy" and to "control what you can control."
"I told them college is going to be a crash course," said Eric, who is 5-foot-11, 211 pounds. "You're going to get some of everything from every aspect of life during those years you're in college. You just have to use what you learn and adjust on the fly. I told them if they handle the stuff off the field, the stuff on the field will just come, so go ahead, get ahead of your schoolwork and make sure your grades are right and eliminate distractions."
The twins, who are rooming together, say they never really considered playing at separate schools.
"It wasn't even an option," Elliott said. "We didn't want our parents to have to go to different games. It's already hard enough, they're going to have to pick when they're going to see our brother [Eric] play and when they're going to see us play. It would have been worse if we'd been at two different colleges."
The twins aren't beginning their college careers with as much acclaim as their brother received.
Eric Berry was rated by Rivals as the nation's No. 3 overall recruit in his class when he signed with Tennessee in 2007. Evan Berry, also a defensive back, was a consensus four-star recruit. Elliott, now playing linebacker, was a three-star prospect.
The twins probably won't make the same type of immediate impact. Eric was a second-team All-Southeastern Conference selection as a freshman. Evan and Elliott are likely reserves this season, though both are expected to play.
They're definitely eager to learn. Tennessee coach Butch Jones noted that Elliott recently sent a 4:30 a.m. text message to linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen, seeking an explanation for the linebacker's responsibility in a particular alignment.
"To me, the Berrys are very cerebral," Jones said. "They live football each and every day, and I think that's a great illustration, especially Elliott."
The Berrys are fraternal twins with different personalities. Evan says he's the more outgoing one while Elliott is "more laid-back and chill."
"To be honest with you, they're ying and yang," Eric Berry said. "They're opposites, different ends of the spectrum in so many categories. But that's what is cool about them. I think we all just balance each other out. We feed off each other."
The Berry twins savor the opportunity to play together. They say having a brother around has prevented them from getting homesick.
"Whenever I have a problem with anything, I can pull him to the side, talk to him and just express my feelings," said Evan. "And he can does the same with me."
Yesterday at practice, Butch called Evan Berry "Eric" by mistake in practice and then said "I wish you were Eric."— Vols Athletics (@vol_athletics) August 9, 2014
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