The best and getting better

I believe the hardest workers should get the raises. I believe the prettiest girls should win the beauty contests. I believe the best players should win the all-star honors.

That's why I'm encouraged to learn that safety Eric Berry is a member of Sporting News All-America team, making him Tennessee's first consensus All-America football player in 18 years. Berry has been named first-team A-A by all five of the NCAA-recognized organizations – Football Writers Association of America, Associated Press, Sporting News, Walter Camp Football Foundation and American Football Coaches Association.

Only 11 previous Vols earned unanimous recognition – guard Bob Suffridge (1940), tailback Hank Lauricella (1951), tailback Johnny Majors (1956), center Bob Johnson (1967), guard Charles Rosenfelder (1968), linebacker Steve Kiner (1969), guard Chip Kell (1970), safety Bobby Majors (1971), defensive tackle Reggie White (1983), guard Eric Still (1989) and tackle Antone Davis (1990).

I thought White in '83 was the most dominating defender that I've ever seen on a football field. Eric Berry in 2008 was a close second, though. He intercepted an NCAA-best seven passes, returning them for 265 yards and two touchdowns. He made 72 tackles, routinely leaving his victim wondering if he'd been hit by a car or a truck.

For all of his greatness, though, Berry never became arrogant or complacent. He continued to play the game with the enthusiasm of a child and the focus of a surgeon. That's important because the greatest pitfall facing a player of Berry's caliber is the mistaken belief that you already are as good as you can get.

"We call it the disease of me," former UT secondary coach Larry Slade told me a few weeks ago. "You start getting complacent and you don't work as hard. You start reading all the articles about how good you are and that type of thing.

"The thing with Eric is, he's still growing, still working at getting better. He is not complacent, despite all of the accolades. Despite all of the 'You're the greatest safety that ever played' (comments), that guy goes out every day, sees himself that way (growing) and prepares himself that way."

And, because the sensational sophomore sees himself as still growing, Tennessee's 2009 opponents had better be wary of Berry.


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