Offering scholarship to 13-year-old Berry smart gamble for Kiffin, Vols
Tennessee offered a scholarship to 13-year-old safety/quarterback Evan Berry
Berry's genes make him a safe bet for Tenn., where his dad and brother starred
Berry isn't alone; many elite athletes' kids should be recruited out of the womb
Scientists have argued nature versus nurture for decades; college football coaches have not. On the gridiron, quality genes (nature) have proven excellent predictors for success. The Mannings (Archie, Peyton, Eli) and three generations of Matthewses (Clay, Bruce, Clay Jr., Clay III) are prime examples.
Yet everyone seems so surprised that Evan Berry, the 13-year-old brother of star Tennessee safety Eric Berry, has committed to play for the Volunteers as the first member of the class of 2013. Offering a scholarship to a random 13-year-old probably isn't the most prudent recruiting gamble, but in this case, Vols coach Lane Kiffin is doubling down on 11. Berry's father, James, was a star running back at Tennessee. Eric might be the nation's best collegiate safety. Evan has a twin brother, Elliot, who also could eventually climb on board.
"Yes, I committed to Tennessee," Evan told Jamie Newberg of Rivals.com. "It's the only college I know right now and it seems the best for me. My dad went there and my brother is there now. I know I can do the same things there. I have a real friendly relationship with the coaches there. I know I don't know them too well but I know I will have plenty of time to get to know them. I want to play in the secondary, and I want to play for coach [Monte] Kiffin."
Of course, there's no guarantee Evan Berry will ever run through the T. In 1998, Wake Forest offered a scholarship to eighth-grader Chris Leak. The Demon Deacons looked to be in pretty good shape. They had just signed Leak's older brother, C.J., but after C.J. injured his knee, he transferred to Tennessee. Chris, a frequent visitor to Knoxville after his brother's transfer, dropped the Vols because of a perceived slight against C.J. and wound up signing with Florida. Who was the crazy Wake Forest coach who offered young Chris Leak that scholarship? Only Jim Caldwell, the current head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
Unfortunately for those of us who inherited the 5.5-second 40-yard dash genes, all are not created equal. Some probably should be recruited while still in the womb -- or at least as soon as they show the slightest glimpse of aptitude. Here are a few examples.
Jaden and Jaz Agassi: Talk about a mixed-doubles team. The elementary school-aged offspring of Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf have the ultimate distillation of elite genes. Check out Jaden's swing in this video. The tennis coaches should hurry, though, because coaches in other sports may want to harness the Agassi-Graf athleticism. Last year, proud pop Andre told the Las Vegas Review-Journal Jaden batted .943 in his coach-pitch baseball league.
Zion, Selah, Joshua, John and "Baby" Marley: If the Berklee College of Music hasn't offered full rides to Rohan Marley and Lauryn Hill's children, the school needs to fire its reggae and hip-hop coaches. Mom's solo debut won five Grammys. Bob Marley's their grandfather. The genes don't get much better than that. Miami football coach Randy Shannon also might want to keep his eye on the boys. Their dad was a fair linebacker for the Hurricanes in the early 1990s.
Ava and Grace Garciaparra: Soccer and softball coaches already should have extended offers to Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra's 2-year-old twin daughters. This one looks like an all-ACC affair, though. Mom played at North Carolina, while dad played at Georgia Tech.
Lailaa Williams: Kiffin's hoops colleague, Pat Summitt, should have the inside track to sign former Tennessee guard Candace Parker and former Duke forward Shelden Williams' two-month-old daughter. Of course, Mike Krzyzewski might try to help out Duke women's coach Joanne P. McCallie by bending ex-Blue Devil Williams' ear.
As for Evan Berry, his genes make him a safe bet for the Vols. But even if he hadn't been a known commodity, Kiffin's only previous foray into tween recruiting seems fairly prescient. Last month, Kiffin said he had offered a scholarship to only one player younger than 10th grade. "Matt Barkley," Kiffin said. "That year I had Orange County, and Barkley was a freshman." In 2005, Kiffin was USC's offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator. He visited Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif. -- Matt Leinart's alma mater -- and saw Barkley throwing. Kiffin's instincts were dead on. Barkley wound up being the top-rated quarterback prospect in the 2009 class, and as a true freshman this season still may push Aaron Corp for the Trojans' starting job.
Expect Kiffin and his coaches to pay attention to players as young as Evan Berry even more in the future. "When you really have a recruiting machine going," Kiffin said last month, "you're in on the ninth and 10th graders because you know your areas so well." Just don't expect a flood of offers from the Vols. Kiffin said those are reserved for special cases such as Barkley, a player the Trojans staff had seen in camp for years. "It's not like basketball where guys are playing. ... We don't get to see them very often," Kiffin said. "And the growth is so much different. A ninth-grader in football grows so much and adds so much weight that it's pretty hard to project."
Projecting gets easier, though, when dad was a star, big brother is a star and dad says the younger brother is further along in his development than the older brother at the same age. That's the case with the Berrys. Father James told Rivals.com Evan and Elliot are currently ahead of Eric's pace.
Even so, Kiffin understands the risk he's taking. Evan, now 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds, may never experience the growth spurt that gives him the size and strength to be an All-America safety. But his genes suggest strongly he will. Kiffin probably worries more about two other unknowns. First, in an age where the hire-and-fire cycle now gives coaches two-and-a-half seasons to turn around a program, he may not be at Tennessee when Evan signs with a school in February 2013. Second, the Vols already have competition. Remember, Evan is a twin, and Elliot isn't sold on Tennessee.
"Right now Elliot favors LSU," Evan told Rivals.com. "He really likes their track program."
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