ATLANTA — For Eric Berry, a homecoming to play in the Georgia Dome at Atlanta became a farewell.
After Tennessee suffered a 37-14 loss to Virginia Tech in Thursday night’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, Berry announced he would bypass his final season of eligibility and enter the NFL draft.
“It’s been a very special experience for me and for me to have to go, I don’t want to go all the way. I want to stay, it’s so much fun. But I just feel like this is a part of it,” Berry said.
A two-time consensus All-America safety for the Volunteers, Berry waited nearly an hour after the conclusion of the game to declare what he called “a very important decision” also referring to it as “a sacrifice.”
“I think that’s why it took me so long to come out here. I had to get myself together,” Berry said. “Because I really don’t want to leave, but I feel like it’s something I need to do. Just to see how my parents worked so hard over the last 18 years, and raising my brothers.”
The safety from Fairburn, Ga., credited UT coach Lane Kiffin for being forthright in the discussions regarding the decision. Both Lane Kiffin and Monte Kiffin said multiple times in the past 13 months they considered Berry a can’t-miss NFL prospect.
Lane Kiffin’s message? “Don’t try to come back just to please me.”
“He put me before himself,” Berry said. “He was looking at my whole situation with my family and what I needed to do. That’s why a lot of the guys rally behind coach Kiffin because he really puts the players first.”
Berry also thanked former UT coach Phillip Fulmer and his staff.
In his final game as a Vol, Berry registered four tackles — with one for loss — and returned two kickoffs for 51 total yards.