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Return to Rocky Top: Tennessee Set to Honor Eric Berry Prior to College Football Hall of Fame Induction

Eric Berry
Former Tennessee defensive back Eric Berry. Photo By Tennessee Athletics.

Tennessee is set to honor former Vol great Eric Berry during this Saturday’s cross-divisional clash with Texas A&M in Knoxville.

Berry, a two-time First Team All-American and a Jim Thorpe Award winner in his three-year Tennessee career from 2007-2009, was selected to the 2023 College Football Hall of Fame class in early January.

The legendary Tennessee defensive back will officially be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Dec. 5, 2023, at the 65th NFF Annual Awards Dinner at the ARIA Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

“We also get a chance to welcome Eric Berry back here,” head coach Josh Heupel said during a Monday press conference. “Two-time All-American, a guy that is going to be inducted into the (College Football) Hall of Fame here later this year. A guy that represents everything that is good about Tennessee football, and excited to have him back here at home.”

Berry’s impact on Tennessee fans in the late 2000s was massive, to say the least. Berry still lands on Tennessee’s all-time interceptions chart, tied at the fifth spot with Deon Grant (14). The Tennessee star finished his career in Knoxville with 245 tackles, three sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss, 14 interceptions, 31 passes defended, and forced two fumbles.

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Berry, a native of Fairburn, Georgia, turned a remarkable career on Rocky Top into the fifth overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Tragedy struck in the middle of Berry’s fifth NFL season, though. In December 2014, doctors diagnosed Berry with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, effectively ending his season but not his story.

Berry worked tirelessly through chemotherapy treatment and became an inspiration to many around the country, certainly in the states of Georgia, Tennessee, and Missouri/Kansas. The former Volunteer would be cleared to return to football activities just over six months after the Hodgkin’s lymphoma was originally reported.

On September 14, 2015, Berry made his return to in-game competition for the Chiefs – just nine months after his original diagnosis.

“Eric Berry, obviously, legend of the game just because of the adversity that he went through, just with his diagnosis and everything,” Tennessee tight end and Knoxville native Jacob Warren said on Monday, who would’ve been between the ages of 7 and 9 during Berry’s time at Tennessee. “Him coming back, no one really thought he would, right? No one expected him to. Just the resilience that he showed through his struggle.”

Playing for the Big Orange was a family tradition for the Berrys. James Berry, the father of the Berry boys, was a running back for the Volunteers from 1978 to 1981 and earned the captain title in his final season with Tennessee. Eric’s twin brothers, Evan and Elliot, also played football at Tennessee in the mid-2010s.

“His little brothers as well played here,” Warren continued on to say. “And he was involved in the community and everything whenever there was some tragedy going on around Knoxville when I was in high school. A lot of respect for him, his game. Man, he’s one of the best to do it, truthfully. It’s cool to see highlights and stuff, just things that went on at this University that are really special, and I’m just happy to be a part of it now.”

Tennessee will honor Eric Berry’s College Football Hall of Fame induction this Saturday afternoon when the No. 19 Vols host Texas A&M at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS in Neyland Stadium.

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