ST JOSEPH, Mo. — Chiefs safety Eric Berry could be bitter from losing two NFL seasons to injury and a third to cancer, but instead he’s grateful for how the adversities have shaped his life and career.
“The whole cancer deal was actual a privilege to be honest with you,” Berry said following the Chiefs’ first padded practice of training camp. “I can’t really tell you where I would be without those situations either.”
As Berry returns for a third act, this time returning from a ruptured Achilles that ended his year less than one game into the season, the physical challenges don’t bother him in the least.
“I’m to the point where I’m going to be in shape, I know I can get in shape, I know i’m going to be ready physically to play. It’s just understanding that and trusting that process so I don’t over do it.
Training camp is entirely about preparing for Week 1, and no one may understand that process better than Berry.
“I got hurt my second year,” explained Berry, who suffered a torn ACL in the first quarter of a 41-7 loss to Buffalo in Week 1 of the 2011 season. “I felt like I was probably in the best shape of my life and I was starting to learn that defense and becoming very acclimated with what was going on around me, starting to learn the defense and learning about NFL football.”
Berry returned to earn first-team All Pro honors in 2013 and make consecutive Pro Bowl appearances in 2012-13.
“Then the cancer hit,” explained Berry, who announced his diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December 2014. “I had that injury when I felt like I was getting at my peak.”
Berry feels his fight against cancer changed him in positive ways.
“It was a blessing at the same time because I learned so much, helped so many people,” Berry said. “And so many people helped me as well. They inspired me just being to connect with them through that common thread of having cancer and being able to overcome it.”
Berry learned much during his previous comebacks. As much as he may want to race up and down the field and light up receivers coming his direction, getting too physical too fast isn’t his plan.
“It’s more mental, just understanding what I need to work on and making sure I get the good looks,” Berry said. “And also just staying patient because I tend to want to get out there and make plays and stuff like that but I have to understand that it is a long season and make sure I take my time.”
Much of that patience comes from his dad, James. Father and son shared a heart-to-heart talk before Eric left training camp.
“He just wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting discouraged and make sure I just kept putting in work anyway I could,” Berry said. “It doesn’t always have to be physical but also understanding you can get better mentally as well. Just having that talk with him helped me out through this period.”
Berry says he tends to overthink things instead of taking action. His dad helps to keep him focused on the goal ahead.
“He’s always been the person to ground me and keep me humble and also put things into perspective for me because sometimes we get caught up into our head a little bit too much,” Berry said. “He’s always been there to be like, just take care of business and you’ll be fine.”
Berry owns five Pro Bowl nominations and three All-Pro nods along with his 2015 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. The only thing missing from his resume is a Super Bowl. He remembers former Chiefs offensive lineman Brian Waters telling him about windows of opportunity closing. Fellow defensive back Brandon Flowers told him about battle scars ahead.
“He was just like, wait until your third year, you’re going to start feeling these little aches and pains and stuff,” Berry said. “A lot of those guys just prepared me for it and just said take advantage of your opportunities. So I’m going to keep on pressing like I said and keep on moving forward.”
Last year could have been the season to make the Super Bowl wish a reality. The Chiefs had high-powered offense, but the a leaky defense that turned inconsistent creating turnovers turned a thrilling start into a suspect finish.
The Chiefs are without a doubt a different team with Berry on the field, a truth head coach Andy Reid knows well.
“Eric’s our leader,” Reid said. “The guys feed off him. It’s the whole story. It’s not just that it’s Eric Berry, It’s the whole story, the whole thing that he went through. The fact that he does everything out here and works his tail off. It’s a phenomenal story.”
Berry believes it would have been a good playoff run if he were on the field. He feels this team still has plenty of potential.
“Right now I’m just locked in to making the most of my opportunities and creating some as well right now,” he said. “As long as we just keep moving forward and I just stay locked in and stay focused which I’m going to do, sky’s the limit.”
Certainly Berry would prefer to remain injury free and avoid the necessity of a fourth comeback. But the future doesn’t worry him thanks to what he learned in the past.
“I just keep on trucking,” Berry said. “I don’t know what life’s going to throw at me. That’s just period. You never know what’s going to come your way and however it comes to you, whatever it is, you just roll with the punches and keep pressing forward.”