Senior cornerback focuses on fulfilling enormous potential
Aaron Berry's talent has never been in question. What the Pitt coaching staff is hoping for this year is that his production finally equals his enormous potential.
For that to happen though, he has to prove he is more mature and can stay focused and committed to playing football for an entire season, something that hasn't always been evident in the past.
Berry, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior cornerback, was one of the highest-rated players in the 2006 recruiting class and was a starter by the third game of his sophomore season.
Last year, he was second-team All-Big East after recording 41 tackles and three interceptions and breaking up a team-high 10 passes. But he also had too many lapses and gave up too many big plays for a guy who was contemplating leaving school for the NFL.
Coaches also have been dismayed by Berry's lack of maturity. He has been suspended several times for off-field incidents, and, as recently as this spring, he had to sit out the final week of drills and the annual spring game for an unspecified "violation of team policy."
But according to his coaches, Berry apparently used that latest incident as a learning experience and grew up over the summer.
Not only is Berry being counted on to be a lockdown cornerback, but he also is expected to be a role model and the leader for a young secondary.
"I think in the summer he took a big step, aside from the football, I think he took a big step in terms of his maturity," said Pitt secondary coach Jeff Hafley. "You see a focus in his eyes and a whole different demeanor, which you wish it had come early, but we're glad it has come now. He has worked as hard as I've seen him work and he is doing all the right things.
"But he needs to do that every day in camp. He needs to do that every practice, on every play he needs to focus. He doesn't need to lead by his words, he needs to lead through his actions on the field. If he's going to be that type of corner, those are the things he needs to do."
Head coach Dave Wannstedt said Berry's talent is evident but his focus hasn't always been what it needs to be. But like Hafley, he sees a change in Berry's demeanor that should enable him to become a more dominant player.
"He needs to be consistently good for us," Wannstedt said. "Aaron wants to do that, and he is off to a good start."
For his part, Berry, from Harrisburg, Pa., said missing the spring game was the sort of wake-up call he needed, and he wants to make sure he doesn't let his teammates and coaches down again.
"I'm definitely more focused on football than I ever have been," Berry said. "I think as a senior, I need to make sure I do everything to stay focused and on the right track so I can help this team win this Big East championship. My focus this summer has been finishing plays and getting in the weight room and just getting stronger."
Berry said he understands and accepts his role as the leader of the secondary but admits it's one he wasn't always comfortable filling.
"I definitely feel like I am the leader," he said, "I have been here the longest and have played the most and if I can just lead by example, the rest of these guys will all follow me."
Hafley said if Berry is indeed focused on football, the sky is the limit in terms of how good he can be.
"It is important for him to perform, for our defense and our team," Hafley said. "He is more than capable of performing like that. He is very talented but he has to put everything aside and focus on football and if he comes every day and does those things then it will be a huge year for him."
NOTES -- Yesterday was the final day for the split squad practices. Tomorrow and Friday, the players will wear only helmets and shoulder pads, then go to full pads Saturday. ...Wannstedt was extremely happy with the work of tailback Chris Burns yesterday but still expressed caution. "It still comes down to blocking and tackling and we haven't done either," Wannstedt said. ... Quarterback Kolby Gray (shoulder) didn't participate in throwing drills yesterday. ... Freshman Kevin Adams (6-1, 205) moved from defensive back to fullback.
First Published August 13, 2009 12:00 am