Mature beyond his years, the junior followed a similar path as his father James. Both served as team captains and both enjoyed three-year careers as starters at Tennessee. A National Honor Society member who graduated with a 3.75 grade point average, he studied dentistry at Tennessee and interned at a Georgia dentist office this past summer.
Known for his outstanding ball-hawking skills, he fell seven yards shy of breaking the NCAA all-time record for interception return yard, as his 494 yards rank behind the 501 generated by Terrell Buckley of Florida State (1989-1991).
As a junior, Berry displayed not only exceptional maturity, but the field intelligence of a veteran pro, showing the skill set to come up and be a dominating force in run support and also staying stride-for-stride with receivers.
The 2009 Jim Thorpe Award winner also took home the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award in just his second collegiate season. That’s why it came as no surprise when the two-time unanimous All-American selection made himself eligible for the 2010 NFL Draft at the conclusion of his junior season.
The strong safety’s 14 career interceptions tied Deon Grant (1997-99) for fifth on Tennessee’s all-time list. Even more impressive is the game-changing impact Berry has once the ball is in his hands. As a true freshman, Berry racked up 222 yards in returns off interceptions to rank second on the school’s season-record chart. As a follow up, he broke the school and SEC records during his sophomore season, collecting 265 interception return yards and surpassing the previous mark of 244 set by Joe Brodsky of Florida in 1956. His career total of 494 yards off of interceptions also set an SEC record, shattering the previous high of 379 by Bobby Wilson of Mississippi (1946-49).
Berry emerged as one of the premier defensive players in the country as a sophomore, and the pass defense saw a dramatic increase in effectiveness, rising all the way to fourth in the country allowing just 160.42 yards through the air per game. Monte Kiffin brought a new scheme to the defensive unit in 2009, but Berry and the secondary still maintained their potency, ranking 12th nationally, as they allowed just 169.23 passing yards per game.
Berry was a highly-touted prospect at Creekside High School, where he was a four-year starter at quarterback and safety. The Parade All-American led his team to a 37-5 overall record during his prep career, including two regional titles and an appearance in the State 4A quarterfinals as a senior.
During his final season, Berry was named the Georgia Player of the Year by Gatorade and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as he collected over 1,500 yards rushing and 1,000 yards through the air. He added three interceptions while racking up over 40 tackles as a defensive back. His performance earned him a starting spot in the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl as a member of the East squad.
The standout defensive back was selected as the nation’s top cornerback prospect by most recruiting services including Scout.com, Rivals.com, ESPN, and Prep Star. He received the highest possible rating of five-stars from Scout.com as well as Rivals.com, who list Berry as the top recruit in Georgia and the third-best prospect nationally. Berry was a model student in the classroom. He maintained a 3.75 grade-point average and was a member of the National Honor Society.
Berry enrolled at Tennessee in 2007 and immediately made an impact on the defense, becoming the first defensive player and just the third overall in the Phil Fulmer era to start the season opener as a true freshman. The consensus Freshman All-American started all 14 games and snagged five INTs for 222 yards and one TD in returns, breaking the record of 177 INT return yards set by Bobby Majors in 1970.
Berry earned second-team All-SEC honors as he led all conference freshmen with 86 tackles (57 solos), including two stops for loss of three yards. During a contest vs. Florida, the team’s third game of the season, he intercepted a pass and returned it 96 yards for a touchdown. The interception was the third-longest in school history and the longest in 35 years. He was named the
SEC Freshman of the Week twice in the final three weeks of the regular season for gus performances vs. Arkansas (six tackles and two interceptions returned 98 yards) and Kentucky (14 tackles and one pass deflection).
Berry continued his stellar play as a sophomore in 2008, being named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year en route to becoming the first Tennessee player to claim unanimous All-America honors since Antone Davis in 1990. He started all 12 games and tied for the national lead with seven interceptions as he collected 265 yards in returns to set a new SEC single-season record, breaking a 52-year-old mark of 244 yards set by Joe Brodsky of Florida in 1956. Berry was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award and a semifinalist for the Draddy Trophy and the Bednarik Award. The sophomore standout also took home the Jack Tatum Award, presented to the nation’s best defensive back by the Touchdown Club of Columbus, Ohio, and the Vince Dooley Award, given to the top defensive back in the southeast by the Touchdown Club of Atlanta.
As a junior in 2009, Berry was officially recognized as the nation’s best defensive back as he was presented with the Jim Thorpe Award. The safety was also a finalist for the Lott Trophy and the Bronko Nagurski Award, presented annually to the best defensive player in college football.
Playing closer to the line in new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s scheme, Berry ranked second on the team with 87 tackles (56 solos) while snagging two interceptions, raising his name to fifth on Tennessee’s career record list. For the second-straight season, he was a unanimous All-American selection, becoming just the second player in school history to do so. As expected, Berry entered his name into the NFL draft pool at season’s end.
Started all 39 collegiate games he played in – 37 at strong safety, one at nickel back and another at left cornerback…Recorded 245 tackles (157 solos) with three sacks for minus 11 yards, 17.5 stops for losses of 45 yards, three pressures, and two forced fumbles…Intercepted 14 passes for 494 yards in returns (35.29 avg) and three touchdowns….His 494 yards gained on interception returns was seven yards shy of the NCAA career-record of 501 by Terrell Buckley of Florida State (1989-1991)…His 494 interception return yards broke a previous SEC record set by Bobby Wilson of Ole Miss (379, 1946-49)…His average gain of 35.29 yards per return broke the previous NCAA all-time record of 26.53 yards by Tom Pridemore of West Virginia (15 for 398 yards, 1975-77)…His average of 35.29 yards per return broke an SEC record set by Wilbur Jamerson of Kentucky (28.2, 1947-1950)…Berry’s seven interceptions in 2008 tied five other players for seventh on the school’s single-season record list…His 265 return yards on those interceptions were the most by any other annual interception champion, except for Deltha O’Neal of California (280 yards in 1999)…His 265 interception return yards set a SEC single-season record, breaking the previous mark of 244 set by Joe Brodsky of Florida (1956)…His 222 INT return yards in 2007 rank third on the SEC single-season record list behind his own mark and Brodsky…Deflected 17 passes, as his total of 31 defended passes ranks sixth on the school’s career-record chart…His 13 passes defended (six pass deflections, seven INTs) in 2008 ties eighth on the school’s single-season record list…Recovered four fumbles, returning them for 103 yards (25.75 avg), as he added 132 yards on six kickoff returns (22.0 avg), 37 yards on seven rushing attempts (5.29 ypc) and caught one pass for three years during his time at Tennessee.
Unanimous All-American first-team selection for the second consecutive season, becoming the first Tennessee player to accomplish that feat since Volunteers offensive guard Chip Kell (1969-1970)…Recipient of the Jim Thorpe Award…Finalist for the Lott Trophy awarded annually to college football’s defensive IMPACT (integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community, and tenacity) player of the year…Finalist for the Nagurski Award…Member of Sports Illustrated’s College Football All-Decade Team…Winner of the Vince Dooley Award, adding Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Male Amateur Athlete of the Year, Tennessee Sports Writers Player of the Year and All-SEC first-team honors…Started all 13 games at strong safety, as the defensive captain rallied his troops to finish 12th in the nation in pass defense (169.23 ypg) and pass efficiency (102.13 rating)…Ranked second on the team with a career-high 87 tackles (56 solos) that included seven stops for losses of 21 yards and three pressures that all came on third down…Caused a fumble and recovered two others, advancing both for a total of 48 yards…Had nine passes defended – seven deflections and two interceptions for 7 yards in returns, as four of those defended passes came on third-down plays…Rerouted receivers away from 29 pass attempts and made six of his stops inside the red zone…Also filled in on special teams, when needed, recording 14 tackles (9 solos) for the coverage squad – 10 on the kickoff coverage team and four on the punt coverage unit.
First Tennessee player to claim unanimous All-American honors since offensive lineman Antone Davis in 1990…Named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year by the league’s coaches and Associated Press…The Jim Thorpe Award finalist was the recipient of the Jack Tatum and Vince Dooley Awards…Draddy Trophy and Bednarik Award semifinalist…Selected the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Male Amateur Athlete of the Year and Tennessee Sports Writers Player of the Year…All-SEC Defensive Player of the Week vs. Mississippi State and Vanderbilt…Started all 12 games at strong safety, finishing as NCAA’s co-leader in INTs (Kevin Sanders, UAB) with seven…His 265 yards gained on those INTs returns set school and SEC season records…Deflected six passes and finished third on the team with 72 tackles (44 solos) that included three sacks for minus 11 yards and 8.5 stops for losses of 21 yards… Returned two kickoffs for 32 yards…Saw late season action on offense, gaining 37 yards on seven carries (5.29 ypc) and three yards on a reception.
Named National Defensive Freshman of the Year College Football News, adding Freshman All-America honors from The NFL Draft Report, Football Writers Association, Rivals.com and College Football News….All-SEC second-team choice by the league’s coaches and AP…Chosen SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year by The Sporting News and was a member of the SEC Freshman Academic Honor Roll…Started all fourteen games, settling in at strong safety…Notched 86 tackles (57 solos), ranking fourth on the team…Two stops for losses of 3 yards and a forced fumble…Recovered two fumbles, advancing both for a total of 55 yards…Broke up nine passes and gained 222 yards with a TD on five INT returns.
Attended Creekside High School (Fairburn, Ga.), playing football for head coach Kevin Whitley…Led his team to a combined 37-5 record, including two regional championships and an appearance in the 2006 State 4A quarterfinals, as a four-year starting quarterback and safety…Totaled 67 tackles and five interceptions on defense as a junior while rushing for over 1,200 and 12 touchdowns and passing for over 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns offensively...Parade All-American as a senior while tallying more than 40 tackles and five interceptions from his safety position and rushing for more than 1,500 yards and passing for over 1,000 as a quarterback…Named the Georgia Player of the Year by Gatorade and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution…U.S. Army All-American Bowl starter at cornerback for the East squad…Berry was the consensus top cornerback prospect in the nation, being listed as such by Rival.com, Scout.com, ESPN, and Prep Star…Given the highest rating of five stars by Scout.com and Rivals.com, as the latter listed him as the third overall prospect in the country and the top recruit in Georgia…Also competed in track and field, setting school record in the long jump (22-8) and 200-meter dash (21.76) as he was the 200-meter state champion as a sophomore and a member of the 4x400 state title relay squad as a junior…National Honor Society member with a 3.75 grade-point average.
Psychology major…2007 SEC Freshman Academic Honor Roll…Member of the National Honor Society in high school with a 3.75 grade-point average...Interned at a dental office in Georgia while in high school…Father, James, was a three-year starter, four-year letterman, and 1981 team captain for the Tennessee football team…Born James