While Tennessee’s come-from-behind upset victory over No. 19 Georgia is the talk of the town (literally), return specialist Evan Berry has quietly become an unsung hero on Rocky Top.
The younger brother of VFL and All-Pro NFL safety Eric Berry leads the nation in average kickoff return yards (39.3), total return yards (550), and kickoffs returned for a touchdown (2) – all of which have come on just 14 attempts. That’s a touchdown every seven attempts.
Not bad, right?
Obviously Berry doesn’t have the ball in his hands as often as Joshua Dobbs or Jalen Hurd, but he has made the most of his opportunities by putting the offense in great field position on nearly every return.
Head coach Butch Jones commended Berry’s abilities and how much of a weapon he has become as a return specialist.
“He’s very, very strong as we all know,” said Jones after the Western Carolina game. “And once you get him in the open field he has great speed.”
This replay from his opening kickoff return against Arkansas showcases Berry’s speed as he hits a tight seam between two defenders at the 27-yard line, and a strong stiff-arm on the kicker puts the finishing touches on a 96-yard touchdown run.
After the game, Berry credited the diligence and work ethic of the entire special teams unit for his success.
“The special teams unit – special teams in general, we’re very confident, just like the other 2/3 of the game,” said Berry. “We practice it every day and just knowing that we practice it so much, it obviously builds confidence and, as you see, we are confident.”
That confidence has continued to roll, even when a strong Georgia team invaded Neyland.
As Tennessee trailed the Bulldogs 24-3 late in the first half of Saturday’s game, it was this 46-yard return by Berry that put the Vols in position to score quickly and gave them enough time to score again after a Sony Michel fumble.
Without a successful return game, it’s quite possible the Vols look a lot worse this season.
So while a 3-3 record isn’t how most Tennessee fans envisioned the season starting, Evan Berry’s highlight reel has been a nice bright spot in the first half of the season.