INDIANAPOLIS — In middle school, Eric Berry earned himself some summer spending money by helping his father, James, paint houses for $5.50 an hour.
On Sunday here at the NFL Combine, Berry painted himself as the best available player in this year’s draft.
“In my eyes, I feel like I’m the best player in the draft because I bring a lot to the table,” Berry said. “I’m that guy that can do pretty much anything a coach asks me do. I can play free or strong or nickel corner. You don’t have to bring in the nickel package for me. I can over the slot in regular personnel. There’s pretty much a lot of things I can bring to the table.”
Berry will show off a full portrait of his abilities by participating fully in workouts here.
“I mean it’s the Combine, not a fashion show,” he quipped.
Berry, who starred all over the defensive backfield at the University of Tennessee is generally regarded as one of the top talents in this year’s draft, with defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska and Gerald McCoy of Oklahoma mentioned as the other blue chippers.
Showing himself to be the best is one reason Berry decided to enter the NFL Draft a year early, getting frank advice from former Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin on the situation.
“Monte told me I would be a fool to come back,” Berry recalled.
His own teammate, Dennis Rogan, trying to impress NFL scouts in his own right, believes Berry is the top prospect available.
"I believe he is. He's got a great work ethic. He's a great leader. He's strong and fast, and you couldn't ask for anything better," Rogan said.
The other reason Berry has his sights set on the NFL is simply a family decision. His father recently had heart surgery, and Berry said he wants to make like easier for the man who often worked two jobs to support the family.
“It was a very tough decision. I really did enjoy my time at Tennessee, but when I sat down to make that decision, I had to put my family pretty much before my school,” Berry said. “Ever since I could remember, my mom and dad were always working. My dad worked two jobs, and my dad just recently had heart surgery, and I basically wanted him to just sit down and enjoy life for a little bit. So I felt like I could do that by just entering the draft and making that situation better.”
Berry remembered the times working with his father as a youngster painting houses.
“We painted the interior of houses, the exterior of houses, and it was very hard, especially outside in the summertime,” Berry recalled. “It would be like 96 degrees and you’d have yourself up on a ladder at 12 o’clock noon and the sun would be beaming down on you, it’s pretty bad.
“He said I was very good, a hard worker. I kind of made his job easier. He said I was cheap labor. It was somewhere around $5.50 an hour, which was pretty good for middle school. I worked for that $5.50, don’t get me wrong.”
Now, Berry is working hard to show everyone he is the best player available in the 2010 draft, and even has a motivational ploy he uses when he first gets up every morning.
“Pretty much what I do before every season is go and find the worst thing that’s said about me, whenever someone has something to say negative about me, I post it up in my bathroom and I look at it every day when I brush my teeth,” Berry said.
So what is the worst thing said about the Volunteers star?
“The worst thing probably is that I’m too small, which I didn’t get. I weighed in at 211 today and 5-11½. Some things are saying I can’t cover, which I don’t understand also,” Berry said. “A lot of things are saying they don’t even have me in the top 10, which is very, very motivating to me.
"Some didn’t have me early first round; they have me mid to late first-round. I kind of just look at that as motivation. It just kind of motivates me throughout the day to kind of prove why I should be up here at the top.”
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