"You do your own thing," Eric Berry said during a recent stop in Knoxville for the a3 benefit golf tournament. "If you want to be like me, just take it to another level. You don't have to follow in my footsteps. Don't let anybody put that label on you as 'Eric Berry's little brother.' Make a name for yourself."
That's good advice because Eric Berry has set the bar really high. In addition to his accomplishments at Tennessee, he was named to the Pro Bowl as an NFL rookie with the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this year.
In short, Berry is one of those rare individuals who manages to maximize his potential while still enjoying his life. He hopes his twin brothers will do the same. The keys, he says, are pretty simple.
"No. 1 is no pressure," he said. "No. 2, just focus on getting their schoolwork done and keep playing. Everything else will just handle itself. If they just focus on their books and trying to be the best player they can be - not try to live up to everybody else's expectations - they'll be fine.
"I told 'em from the get-go, 'Don't try to be me.' I told 'em they're much more athletic than me and they're much smarter than me. If they just handle what they need to, they'll be fine."
From all indications, Eric and Elliot are following their older brother's advice, athletically and academically.
"I'm proud of them for making good grades," Eric said. "They're handling everything like professionals. They've been doing well in their schoolwork and doing well on the field, so I'm happy about that."
Naturally, Big Orange fans hope the twins will follow their older brother's lead and play football for Tennessee someday. Eric certainly enjoyed his time on The Hill, with one 2008 home game standing out as his fondest memory.
"It was when we played Alabama, and the whole crowd was chanting my name," he recalled. "That was amazing to me. I never even dreamed of that, but it happened."
Coming off his rookie season of pro ball, Eric says Year 1 in the NFL is an even more difficult adjustment than Year 1 in college. Some of those grizzled veterans can be pretty tricky.
"Going from high school to college you're dealing with more guys in your age group - 18 to 22," he said. "In the NFL you're dealing with guys that are 32 and 33. There's a lot more variety on your team. And going from college to the NFL, you've got old-school veterans that are using old-school tricks on you. They've got a lot of wisdom. That's probably the biggest difference."
Berry stops by the Tennessee campus every chance he gets. Several of the defensive backs he played with are still on the team.
"Every time I talk to them they have nothing but good things to say," he said. "They say they've been working hard. I support them, just like they support me."
Berry says he benefited from spending his first two years at Tennessee under the tutelage of defensive coordinator John Chavis.
"I think that does a lot for a program - having a coach that's going to be there year after year," Berry said. "You don't have to always come in and learn a new system. He already has the system in place, and the guys just continue to learn that. They don't have to wipe the slate clean and start all the way over."
After struggling a bit during Year 1 in Chavis' defense, Berry emerged as a star in Year 2.
"My first year everything was moving fast," he recalled. "That second year, when I got a grasp of the playbook, that's when I made All-American. Once you get that second year of defense under your belt, that really does help."
Berry believes Tennessee's veteran DBs were hampered by having to learn three defensive schemes the past three years. After playing Chavis' scheme in 2008, they had to adjust to Monty Kiffin's scheme in 2009 and to Justin Wilcox's scheme in 2010. Having Wilcox back for 2011 should be a big plus, Berry believes.
"Going from high school to college the playbook jumps to that thick," he said, holding his thumb and forefinger three inches apart. "It's going to take you a year to get comfortable with it, so that second year you've got everything down pat and you can just go out there and fly around."
Like Tennessee fans, Berry is hoping second-team All-SEC safety Janzen Jackson - currently out of school - will rejoin the Vols in time for the 2011 season.
"Last time I talked to him was when I came in for the spring game," Berry recalled. "I just told him to keep his head up and do whatever he has to do to get back on the field. A lot of people would love to be in his shoes right now, as far as playing football and doing something they love to do at the University of Tennessee."
Jackson has All-America potential but does not appear to be as devoted and disciplined as some players with less talent.
"The example I always use is Inky Johnson," Berry said, referring to a former Vol whose career was cut short by a shoulder injury. "He would do anything he could to get back on the field again. Here you have somebody (Jackson) with all the talent in the world to do whatever he wants to do but you have to take advantage of it while you can because it's a blessing."
When asked if his advice to Jackson seemed to sink in, Berry shrugged.
"I don't know," the former Vol said. "I told him what I felt. I hope it did. I feel like he'll bounce back. A lot of times people don't understand the pressures of being an 18- or 19-year old in college. If everybody just comes in and supports him - stops pointing the finger at him - I think that would help."