For some ‘Canes, being at Miami is family business

Kenny Berry won a national championship in his final season at
Miami. Alonzo Highsmith’s title ring came in a season when hardly
anybody expected the Hurricanes to be great.

Their sons would like to see history repeat.

For Damien Berry and A.J. Highsmith, being part of the Miami
football family is extra significant – since their fathers helped
build the tradition the current Hurricanes want to uphold. Damien
Berry is a senior running back, A.J. Highsmith a sophomore backup
quarterback, and each could end up playing big roles this season
for 13th-ranked Hurricanes, who open Thursday against Florida
A&M.

”This is home,” Damien Berry said.

Indeed, Miami football has been part of the makeup of the Berry
and Highsmith families for decades.

Alonzo Highsmith was part of the 1983 national title season, the
first of five championships for the Hurricanes. He converted from
defensive end in high school to running back in college, was
Miami’s leading rusher in the 1983 Orange Bowl win over heavily
favored Nebraska, and went on to be a first-round NFL pick.

The elder Highsmith was featured prominently in a documentary
about the Hurricanes that premiered late last year, and some of his
son’s teammates never made the connection until then about the deep
family ties to the program.

”I still don’t think they know exactly who he was,” said A.J.
Highsmith, who completed 4 of 6 passes as a freshman in limited
duty last season. ”He’s a lot different now than he was back
then.”

When it comes to the Berry family story, father and son, too,
are very different. Or exactly the same, depending on
perspective.

Kenny Berry was a standout running back when he came to Miami,
then switched to defensive back while with the Hurricanes. Damien
Berry came to college targeted for safety, then was converted to
running back – his natural position – during his sophomore
season.

And now, Berry might end up as Miami’s go-to back this fall.

”We had a conversation about the transition from defensive back
to running back,” Kenny Berry said. ”And I asked him, ‘Where have
all your blessings come from? Where have you been the most
successful?’ He’s capable of tremendous things on both sides of the
ball, but some of the things he’s done running it, from high school
to Pop Warner, he’s always been a running back by nature.”

Adding to the family ties that bind is this: Hurricanes coach
Randy Shannon played with both of the fathers at Miami.

”We always say that when you play at the University of Miami,
you’re a part of the University of Miami family forever,” Shannon
said. ”I think A.J. and Damien wanted to be part of that for
themselves.”

A third-generation Hurricane could be looming.

Defensive end Anthony Chickillo of Tampa (Fla.) Alonso High is
expected to announce his college choice in the coming days, and
Miami is believed to be atop his list. His grandfather Nick
Chickillo was a first-team AP All-American for the Hurricanes in
the early 1950s, and father Tony Chickillo played for Miami from
1979-82.

”It adds a lot, to know you played where your father played,”
Damien Berry said. ”I won’t call it pressure, because I’m never
pressured, but it adds a lot of excitement to know I have a chance
to be as great as he was. Or better. My aim isn’t to do what my dad
did. My aim is to try to do more.”

In the Berry home, father-and-son have been known to merit the
debate that can’t truly be decided: Who is better?

If the Hurricanes find a way to get a national title this season
– and the son gets the ring that his father won a generation ago –
that argument might really pick up steam.

”You really can’t compare,” Damien Berry said. ”I’m bigger.
He was faster. I went from defense to offense. He went from offense
to think. Come on – you don’t really have to think to tackle
somebody. On offense, you’ve got to know where you’re going. So I
think I’m the better athlete.”

He’ll get his chance to show it this season, with his dad
watching proudly from the stands.

”Seeing him do what I had a chance to do,” Kenny Berry said,
”it’s been a blessing for me and our family.”