Eric Berry was one of the last Tennessee players to leave the locker room after the Volunteers lost to Virginia Tech 37-14 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve.
Even though he had a season of eligibility remaining, Berry knew it was the last time he would wear Tennessee orange.
"I kind of had to get myself together," Berry said that night in Atlanta, near his hometown of Fairburn, Ga., "because I really don't want to leave. But I feel like this is just something that I need to do to help my family."
Berry's family is about to be helped in a big way.
Six Jim Thorpe Award winners have been selected among the NFL Draft's top five picks. Berry is likely to join them. It's possible he could go higher than any other Thorpe Award winner.
Berry will be handed his trophy tonight in the annual ceremony at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. In April, he will receive not hardware but status from pro football.
Berry, a hard-hitting safety, is projected by most draft analysts to go No. 3 overall, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That would match Bennie Blades, who in 1988 went No. 3 overall (to Detroit) and still represents the highest a Thorpe Award winner has been picked.
Five other Thorpe Award winners have been selected in the top five of the draft: Michigan's Charles Woodson, fourth in 1998; OU's Rickey Dixon, fifth in 1988; Florida State's Deion Sanders, fifth in 1989; Arizona's Darryl Lewis, fifth in 1991; and Kansas State's Terence Newman, fifth in 2003.
Some speculation even has the Detroit Lions jumping on Berry at No. 2 overall.
"I really did go over every possible situation and scenario," Berry said that night in Atlanta. "I went over it with my coach (Lane Kiffin), I went over it with my parents. Coach just told me this would probably be the best thing for me to do, just to go ahead and go to the draft."
Sage advice from Kiffin, even if he wasn't going to jump to Southern Cal a couple of weeks later. Berry is going to be amply compensated by an NFL franchise and says he wants to help his parents.
"It was something that I could do to just let them sit down and relax and show them my appreciation for what they have done for me," he said.