Berry twins, Creekside High keep moving forward
FEB 05, 2014 4:34p ET
FAIRBURN, Ga. -- In the faculty parking lot behind Creekside High School, wedged between the Seminoles' football stadium and the school building's locked back doors, a young man adjusted his tie as an obscure remix of "We Made It" blasted from car speakers. It was 8:45 a.m. and two things were happening: a celebration and a potential eviction; a Seminoles cheerleader tied envelopes to dark balloons labeled "CONGRATS" as a tow truck slowly inched its way through the lot, lights flashing, searching for out-of-place vehicles, looking for misplaced visitors.
On Wednesday morning, there was little towing to be found at Creekside High, but plenty of visitors.
As the defending Class 5-A Georgia state champions, the Seminoles, coming from terrible preseason lows to remarkable end-of-season highs, were prepping for National Signing Day -- 10 signees total, off to colleges in California and Indiana and West Virginia, highlighted by Tennessee signees Elliot and Evan Berry. It was a highlight event for those in attendance -- families, teammates, coaches and students not kicked out of the auditorium by principal Ronald Maxwell -- a mirror image of the football-centric formalities going on around the country.
The focus, of course, fell on the SEC commits, the Berrys, twin brothers carrying on the Volunteer legacy of their father and older brother Eric, the NFL All-Pro safety who sat stage left in a Kansas City Chiefs hat as his brother signed their letters of intent. Their signing was the main event. Name recognition goes a long way.
Earlier Wednesday morning, the elder Berry sent a text message to Tennessee head coach Butch Jones offering him well wishes on the promising class. Elliot and Evan, both considered three-star recruits, capped off the Jones' 36-man class as the final NLIs to be sent to Knoxville, adding more clout behind the family atmosphere Jones is trying to build with former players. There aren't many better places to start with that than Fairburn: Rocky Top is a big deal for the orange-clad Berry family. Eric was an All-American safety for the Volunteers before becoming the No. 5 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. The patriarch, James, the family's staunchest of supporters, played running back there from 1978 to 1981.
"(Dad) obviously wanted us to go there, but he's told us that it's our decision in the long run," Evan said. "But when we told him, he was just excited. He ran around the house a couple times. Jumped up and down. He called all his friends. He got in the car and went somewhere. We really made him proud."
Added Elliot: "We told him last, too."
The twins join a celebrated '14 class for Jones, one that ranks in Scout's top-five nationally, a deep collection of talent that addresses nearly every position on the depth chart, especially on defense. The Creekside twins are listed as safeties, though Evan is holding out hope to get some looks on the offensive end.
"First of all, coming off a 5-7 season, that's nothing short of amazing," Eliot said of the class. "Usually when you have something like that, you need recruits. It's just kinda jaw-dropping to me that he can get those type of players to sign. ... I feel like, if everybody buys in, we can turn that around immediately."
This was the good news, the culmination of a long high school football journey, the Berrys just one of 10 families to climb up onto the stage and smile for the cameras. Everyone with a story about the future, about what is to come.
It wasn't always like this, though. There were hard times at Creekside in the recent past, the worst of times for the team, one that hit rock bottom before the season even began.
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When Olten Downs accepted the Creekside head coaching position last April, he said he wanted to take the program to an "elite" level. "I know if I can come in and lay down the foundation and have kids buy in, weâll be successful," he said. There was talent and promise, FBS prospects scattered across the roster.
Four months later, none of that mattered. The school made national headlines following the death of starting cornerback De'Antre "Tre Tre" Turman, who died at Grady Memorial Hospital after suffering a broken neck in a preseason scrimmage. The Medical Examiner's Office attributed the fracture to blunt force trauma. The team was devastated. There were memorials and tributes -- the team adopted the slogan "Do It For Duece"; Turman wore No. 2 -- and the loss of one of the team's best players was bound to make the actual season all the more difficult. Add in the fact that Downs was the team's third head coach in three years, and the Seminoles had problems.
"A lot of hardships, a lot of trust issues," Downs said in evaluating the situation. "We've overcome a lot."
Added Elliot Berry: "That whole situation really kinda forced all of us to grow up faster than we normally would have. We weren't going to use it as an excuse to not be great. Instead, we used it as our motivation."
Creekside won its first game â¦ and never looked back. They bought in more and more, trusted in Downs, who Elliot described as "Saban-like", more and more. By the time it was over, the Berry twins, running back Dexter Knox (who signed with Purdue on Wednesday) and the rest of the Seminoles searched out friends and family on the Georgia Dome turf, a perfect 15-0 season capped by a dominant state title win. There were plenty of No. 2s held in the air that night.
That sentiment extended into Wednesday's events, a national spectacle Turman was expected to be a part of in the 2015 class. So while photos and handshakes were going around, it's clear the school has not forgotten where it all started, how far it has come from dealing with one of its worst tragedies. Downs spoke of the young man he coached for just a few months in his opening statement. Players said he was still missed.
Signing Day is, overall, considered a positive day for all involved. As the song blasted in the parking lot to foreshadow the mood: "We made it."
The Seminoles made it to the end of a tumultuous season on top of Georgia 5-A football, with 10 players headed off to play college ball and more on the way. The Berrys grab the headlines, as their talent and familial backstory warrants, but the Creekside High School program took another step forward on Wednesday.
"We're a great success story," Downs said.