TERRE HAUTE —
Even a short conversation with Junior Berry quickly reveals that he’s one of the more interesting high school football players in the Wabash Valley.
And what he doesn’t mention in that conversation is even more noteworthy.
The 6-foot-2, 300-pound senior at Terre Haute South will be a four-year regular who will earn half his letters on each end of town (a transportation problem resulted in his transferring from Terre Haute North to Terre Haute South after his sophomore season with the Patriots).
He has a chance to earn all-conference honors in two different leagues, winning all-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference accolades as a junior last season before he and the Braves switched football competition to Conference Indiana for this fall.
He might be the only Samoan player in the Wabash Valley too. “Half Samoan, half German,” he explained, and he spent eight years living in American Samoa.
What Berry didn’t mention to the Tribune-Star earlier this week, however, is that he’s the second-rated defensive line prospect in Indiana (behind only Lake Central’s Gelen Robinson, son of former professional basketball player Glenn Robinson) and the 24th-best overall prospect. Coach Tim Herrin had to point out what are probably his two favorite things about his senior lineman: he’s that good, and he doesn’t make a big deal about it.
“He’s a hard worker,” Herrin said of Berry this week, “and he’s a team player. It’s not about him.”
What seems to be a disproportionate amount of football success by Samoan athletes has created almost a cliche about the warrior culture on the islands. That’s based on reality, Berry indicated.
“They’re not small,” he said of his relatives and fellow Samoans, “and there’s an instinct — they like attacking. They like defending.”
Berry admits he was only half of the stereotype when his family moved to Terre Haute and he became a third-grade football player. He weighed somewhere between 120 and 130 pounds, but he added, “I was a scaredy-cat when I was younger … but I grew into [football].”
That he did. Plans are this year to use him on both sides of the ball — offensive guard, defensive tackle — but Berry has a familiar refrain when asked what he likes best.
“I like attacking,” he said. “I like the defensive side.”
That could be where the University of Toledo will put him a year from now, although the Rockets haven’t let him know for sure. Berry gave a verbal commitment earlier this year after showing his agility as well as his size. “I had a 5.1 40[-yard dash],” Berry recalled, “and my shuttle run was pretty good.”
“He’s a good football player and a good lineman,” Herrin pointed out. “He’s really good with his hands … he’s quiet and laid-back, but when it comes time to play he’s a light-switch kind of guy.”
Herrin is a former lineman himself so he should know — and that fact makes Berry feel good about the upcoming season as well.
“He’s a big guy, so we [linemen] look up to him,” the player said of his first-year head coach. “He kind of focuses on the line; the offensive line and the defensive line could be the leaders of the team.
“I see us getting a winning season. The new coach gives us a lot of momentum.”
The success of the season is all Berry is working toward, he added.
“I don’t have any individual goals,” he explained. “It’s more of a team-effort thing to me … I just do the best I can.”