We often lament Butch Jones’s misuse of talent as Tennessee football’s head coach, and for good reason. But with Evan Berry the third player from his five-year tenure on this list, it’s important to finally give him credit. Jones did do a great job focusing on special teams.
While Cameron Sutton and Alvin Kamara were great players in the return game, Berry was the crown jewel. The son of former Vol James Berry and brother of Eric Berry, he had a lot to live up to when coming to Knoxville. And although he couldn’t reach his brother’s legacy at defensive back, he made up for it in the return game.
Berry was a freshman All-American kick returner, already making splashes in 2014. But his real breakout year, and far and away his best year, was 2015. That year, Berry returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and averaged an amazing 38.3 yards a kickoff return. It was enough for him to be an All-American specifically as a kick returner.
For his career, Berry had 53 kickoff returns for 1,820 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 34.3 yards a kickoff return. He was amazing with the ball in open space, evidenced by the fact that the only interception he ever picked up in his college career was also returned 100 yards for a touchdown.
Simply put, Evan Berry was amazing when he touched the ball. He was so amazing, in fact, that it adds more criticism to Jones. Why didn’t he use Berry on offense instead of having him ride the bench for four years as a backup safety on scrimmage plays?
Either way, Berry did enough to prove himself to be the greatest kick returner in Tennessee football history. He never even fielded punts, and he was still amazing. The guy was an All-American his junior year despite missing half the season due to injury.
He then missed pretty much his entire senior season. But it didn’t matter. Berry did enough in two and a half years as a kickoff returner to prove his worth to the Vols, and it’s why he is far and away No. 1 on this list.
The kicking game has been a critical part of Tennessee football’s historic advantage over teams, and Berry was the quintessential example of that. Even when he wasn’t changing the game with touchdowns, he was doing little things, such as getting what he could against the Georgia Bulldogs in 2016 to set up the Vols’ game-winning Hail Mary. That was Berry’s profile, and it makes him a Rocky Top legend in his own right.