Harvard cornerback Andrew Berry

bglogo

Everyone’s sweet on Crimson’s Berry

Andrew Berry said playing QB in high school helped make him a better cornerback in college.

Andrew Berry said playing QB in high school helped make him a better cornerback in college. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)

By Barbara Matson, Globe Staff

September 19, 2008

Believe this or not:  Harvard cornerback Andrew Berry is too good to be true.

The Crimson senior was named a preseason All-American by The Sports Network on the heels of his selection last year to the All-Ivy League first team and ESPN The Magazine’s Academic All-America first team. He started every game in Harvard’s 8-2 Ivy championship season, and went four straight without having a ball thrown against him in one-on-one coverage. He ranked fourth on the team in passes defended (nine) with an interception and a forced fumble.

He’s got a twin brother, Adam, who is a wide receiver for Princeton, but he’s never let Adam catch a pass against him.

“Definitely, I’m going to shut him down [this year],” Berry said. “[The Tigers] haven’t caught a pass against me yet and I’m going to make sure that that still occurs.”

So he’s got game. He’s got smarts, too. He is a top student, concentrating in economics but also becoming so accomplished in computer science that in his junior year, he became a teaching fellow for the introductory course he took as a freshman. He’s involved in the community, tutoring at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School and participating in campus Christian groups, and, said Harvard coach Tim Murphy, “There’s not a phony bone in his body.”

Berry will be manning the corner tonight when Harvard opens against Holy Cross in the first Friday night game at Harvard Stadium. The Crimson were originally ranked in the Championship Subdivision but have dropped out of the Top 25 as other teams have posted 3-0 records.

Though Harvard has won five of its last six meetings with Holy Cross, the Crusaders took a 31-28 victory last year, connecting for a 40-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds remaining. Murphy is counting on Berry, the spine of the secondary, to prevent a repeat.

Berry used to be a quarterback, too, at Bel Air High School in Maryland. He’s 6 feet 1 inch, and he said that when he got to Harvard, he was about 165 pounds, soaking wet. Not only did he have to adjust to the college game, he had to move from offense to defense.

“He knew he would play either wide receiver or corner when he got here,” Murphy said. “What makes him good is what makes a lot of kids good – he’s big, he’s fast, he’s athletic. What makes him great is he is a perfectionist in terms of technique, he’s a tremendous competitor, and he just has the tremendous instincts that all the great defensive backs have.

“He knows where the ball is going. He knows how to play all the techniques – man, zone. Because of that, it gets to a point where people don’t even challenge him.”

For his part, Berry has loved learning to play football from a different vantage point.

“Corner’s a very technical position,” he said. “It’s definitely technique and football IQ. Obviously, you need a baseline level of athleticism, but really being able to anticipate things that the offense is going to do. You have to put your body in the correct position. A lot of that is being able to, as you’re running with a guy, or as you’re backpedaling, being able to read the route or understand what he’s doing with his body, so you can be quick enough to make that adjustment.

“Playing quarterback has allowed me to be a better corner because I’m able to anticipate what the offense is doing. You still get to think offensively for a little bit, but you also get to hit somebody in the process.”

Berry learned quickly; in his collegiate debut – against Holy Cross – he had six tackles, three pass breakups, and a fumble recovery. He led the Crimson in pass breakups his freshman season, appearing in seven games, and by the end of his sophomore season, he was named to the All-Ivy first team.

“I think he’s certainly considered one of the best defensive backs in the country,” said Murphy, whose defense ranked in the nation’s top five in five categories last season. “In my mind, he may be the best defensive back in the country. We’ve had some outstanding players here and he’s the best defensive back we’ve ever had the pleasure to coach – because he does it all.

“He’s just one of those guys, you try to find a weakness, we can’t even find a subtle weakness: He does more community service, gets the highest grades, he’s the most moral kid you’ve ever met. He’s really special. He’s an amazing kid.”

Murphy said Harvard recruited both Andrew and Adam, though he expected both would go to Princeton as it’s closer to their home. But Andrew chose Harvard, setting up the annual Berry brothers showdown.

“The first time it happened, a couple of years ago, it was really weird,” said Andrew of lining up against his twin. “I was so used to throwing the football to him. But now he’s just like any other receiver. I don’t like letting him catch passes, so I don’t let him.”

As well as Berry disrupts play on the field, he runs a smooth course off it. His life is faith-infused, and that gives him unwavering direction.

In the short term, Berry’s goal is to pay off his loans. Taking a longer view, he said he wants to make a difference.

“Quite honestly, next year, when I graduate, who’s going to remember Andrew Berry?” he said. “If not next year, five years down the line. Who can name the last five Nobel Prize winners? Or even five CEOs of companies? It’s the people who have a personal effect on your life, those are the people you’ll remember.

“I want to be able to have an impact on where I’m needed. I know that’s very vague, but once again I think that’s something where God will guide me according to his will.”