On Nov. 2, 2011, junior running back Jaamal Berry was no longer an Ohio State Buckeye.
Suspended from the team for his involvement in an altercation in Columbus, Ohio on Oct. 21, 2011, Berry said he suddenly had to stop doing the one thing he knew how to do-play football.
According to NCAA regulation, however, players suspended at the Division I level can continue their careers as long as they transfer to the FCS Division.
The schools started calling him – Tennessee State, Illinois State, Appalachian State, Eastern Illinois.
However, it was Head Coach Chris Hatcher and the Murray State Racers who pulled away in the end, luring Berry to join the ranks of the Blue and Gold for the remainder of his college career.
“Murray State really stood out because they were there from the start through the end,” Berry said. “They saw what I had to do to become eligible to get here and everything, and they were on my butt about everything I had to do. Some of my credits weren’t transferring over to Murray, so I had to take a couple classes over the summer in order to be eligible to play this year.”
News of Berry’s transfer didn’t take long to permeate the campus, as many fans were shocked when such a high-valued prospect from the Big Ten powerhouse school of Ohio State was headed to a campus of only 11,000 students.
Berry said it didn’t take long for classmates and teachers to start asking him all sorts ofquestions about his past and where he was headed in the future.
“When I first got here, everyone knew I was the Ohio State transfer, so when I got here people were asking me in class, ‘Hey, are you the Ohio State transfer? How was Ohio State?’” he said. “Like I said before, I’m over with Ohio State and this is my new home and I’m glad to be here. I’m grateful to have a second chance to play football again, and I’m ready to win some games.”
Don’t mistake his comments for ill-will towards the Buckeyes, however, as Ohio State not only remains one of his favorite college football teams to root for, but also is a place with many connections and friends there today.
“I have no hard feelings against them or anything,” Berry said. “I met a lot of people and made a lot of connections up there, and I like to see my friends that I left up there doing well.”
With a clean slate and friendly small town behind him, Berry said he has been able to focus more on his goals of reaching the NFL and being a premiere back in the league. The lack of distractions, he said, has helped him continue to push and become a better player and meet the imposing expectations he sets on himself.
If everything fits according to plan, Berry believes the sky is the limit – a conference championship, an FCS championship, leading rusher in the conference.
To him, anything is possible.
“I just need to stay healthy, keep trusting what the coaches are saying and keep doing the little things right and everything should fall in place for me,” he said. “I put God first, too, and hopefully I have a real good career here. I’m putting high expectations on myself.”
After nursing a hamstring injury to start the season, Berry has sprinted out of the gate in remarkable fashion.
With just four games under his belt, the halfback is averaging six yards per carry and 61 yards rushing per game, including a 142-yard burst against Tennessee Tech on Sept. 29.
Coupled with 24 yards receiving per game, Berry is a dual-threat back with good pass-catching hands, and Hatcher has started to take notice.
“He’s starting to come into his own,” Hatcher said. “He’s starting to get in shape, he’s learning what to do and Coach Dawkins feels more comfortable putting him in the game. He’s got a better feel out of what’s expected of him, and I told him before the Tennessee Tech game that I thought he’d have a 100-yard game by the way he practiced that week, and sure enough he did. On some of those runs, he showed the speed and elusiveness that he has.”
Life certainly isn’t without its hard lessons, and Berry said he has had his share of tough breaks and personal mistakes.
He’s just making sure he doesn’t pass up another opportunity.
“Just live in the moment and never take things for granted,” Berry said. “People take things for granted until it’s gone. Obviously, going from a huge school to a smaller school, I can defintiely see the changes. But football is football no matter where you are; do the fundamentals right and do the little things right and listen to your coaches and everything will be good from there.”
So far, so good.
Edward Marlowe, Staff Writer