The Main Event: Like a well-crafted hat on a cowboy, Tennessee safety Eric Berry will look great on an NFL team

BY BERRY TRAMEL, STAFF WRITER, BTRAMEL@OPUBCO.COM Published: February 8, 2010
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photo - University of Tennessee defensive back and 2009 Jim Thorpe Award Winner  Eric Berry tries on cowboy hats at Tener's Western Outfitters on Sunday. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
University of Tennessee defensive back and 2009 Jim Thorpe Award Winner Eric Berry tries on cowboy hats at Tener's Western Outfitters on Sunday. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

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.