Commentary

Safety first

Monte Kiffin's coaching may make defensive back Eric Berry into one of the best ever

Originally Published: September 10, 2009
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN The Magazine
Asger CarlsenEric Berry and Monte Kiffin's relationship could take the former to the next level of stardom.

This story appears in the Sept. 21 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

A line of Day-Glo orange snakes a quarter mile along the Tennessee River, curving around the sprawling Volunteers football complex on a sunny April morning. Thousands of fans have arrived five months before the opening game, with cameras, Tennessee jerseys and signs. It's the Orange and White Game, and as they say here, it's Football Time in Tennessee.

Problem is, times haven't been so good lately. A nightmarish 5-7 season led to the turbulent end of Phillip Fulmer's 17-year head-coaching tenure and the more turbulent beginning of the Lane Kiffin era. Vols fans crave stability right now, which is why they've put their faith in safety Eric Berry, who's as popular as the chorus to "Rocky Top."

In his two years on campus, Berry has crafted the best start to a career of any defensive back in college football history. Really. The 5'11", 203-pound junior has used his fluid stride and uncanny balance to pick off 12 passes and return them for an astounding 487 yards. That's just 14 yards shy of Florida State cornerback Terrell Buckley's NCAA record 501 yards, set from 1989 to 1991. Even more impressive? He's been flagged only once in two years, despite his hitting with the aggression of a linebacker -- as seen here.

To learn more about Eric Berry as a person and his relationship with the Kiffins -- and how that relationship could put him No. 1 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft -- you must be an ESPN Insider. Insider

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