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.”