Eric Berry was a rock during a tough time for Tennessee football.
Lane Kiffin came in for one year with a lot of hoopla and a lot of bravado. He then left in the middle of the night to go to USC as quickly as he came. And Tennessee fans were not happy.
It was so bad that defensive coordinator, and Kiffin’s father, Monte Kiffin was afraid to leave his office the evening his son announced he was leaving. The way the telling goes there were riots in Knoxville and Kiffin is still persona non grata in Knoxville especially after taking a job as offensive coordinator at rival Alabama.
Berry, the all-american safety for the Volunteers at that time, ran into Monte Kiffin in the office trying to hide from the fans with their pitchforks, too afraid to leave.
Berry told high school students at the Best of Preps awards ceremony in Chattanooga what happened that day:
“When everybody found out Coach Kiffin was leaving, the campus became one big riot,” Berry recalled according to Mark Wiedmer of the Chattanooga Times Free-Press. “Everybody was burning mattresses and stuff. Monte was in the football complex and he was in a panic. He wasn’t going to leave his office until the fires were out. And he didn’t. I think he slept there all night. I finally had to tell him, ‘Coach, they’re not going to do anything to you. It’s your son they’re after.'”
Monte Kiffin survived and Lane Kiffin escaped town. Everyone in attendance at the event Thursday laughed at the story.
Berry was speaking to the high school students as an inspiration of many sorts.
He just won the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year after coming back to play following a cancer diagnosis. Berry spoke to the prep stars in attendance about how he found inspiration and hope in visiting the children’s ward of the hospital and seeing pediatric cancer patients still enjoying life and filled with optimism.
He also gained support from his Tennessee teammates and inspiration from Inky Johnson, who was paralyzed during a game after a hit on a kickoff return.
Berry continues to be a walking inspiration for others and continues to perform at a high level, serving as a reminder for what perseverance, hard work and a little bit of kindness can do.