By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The dream continues for Scooter Berry.
He told me so the other day.
Oh, not in so many words ... at least spoken words. See, this curmudgeon of a sports columnist has suddenly found himself lost in this techno-crazy world, so much so that for the first time in a career that stretches all the way back to the Lyndon Johnson administration it was done via email with Berry, the former West Virginia University defensive lineman, sending his answers from his iPad.
Seemed his phone was down at the moment, and when he said he wanted to do it that way it sounded like a fine idea ... and it was.
“I know I can play in the NFL. I showed a lot in those four preseason games. At that time it just wasn’t enough to make the roster. The right time/team or situation and we’re having a totally different interview,” he wrote.
That tryout was with the Houston Texans last summer.
You might remember Berry from the way he played with the Mountaineers. He came to WVU somewhat under the radar, his half-brother Jason Gwaltney being one of the most heralded recruits ever to come to the school.
The thinking was maybe Berry was coming along on his coattails, a mistaken image, as he would prove with his play.
After a redshirt season he joined Johnny Dingle and Keilen Dykes on the defensive line, and by 2010 he was of the anchors on a defense that was almost impregnable, one of the nation’s top three defenses and the toughest to run against.
While nose guard Chris Neild and the likes of safety Robert Sands and cornerback Brandon Hogan the centerpieces of the draft, Berry acted as if he weren’t really interested in the draft.
“Throughout college I never really paid any attention to the draft, and the year I entered was no different. Maybe with the NFL lockout coming, and a slim chance of being drafted, I acted nonchalant about it,” he said.
But there was that thing you never can really lose — hope.
You go through the NFL draft only once, and when the NFL is your dream, you really can’t be nonchalant.
“I caught myself glancing at it every now and then with hopes of hearing my name called, definitely the longest three days of my life,” he admitted.
When the draft ended he was in limbo, a free agent, and it wasn’t until July, just before training camp, that he signed a free agent contract.
“I was eventually picked up by the Texans to join them for the preseason. It was a great experience to have joined an organization like that,” he said.
Gary Kubiak is the head coach for the Texans.
“Kubiak is a very stand-up guy and treats his guys with a lot of respect,” Berry said.
So is Berry, who doesn’t back away from taking full responsibility for not being able to earn a roster spot.
“The thing that disappointed me the most was myself. I went into camp unprepared and not in the best shape, which didn’t help me being undrafted trying to make a team that eventually had one of the best defenses in the NFL last year,” he said.
Berry now had nowhere to turn, except to the Arena Football League.
He signed with the league champion Jacksonville Sharks, rejoined his WVU brother Johnny Dingle on the roster, and last week played on the NFL Network’s Arena Football League Game of the Week, dominating defensively enough to earn a game ball.
Why, he even scored his first Arena League touchdown, stripping the ball from the quarterback in the end zone and recovering it.
It was an impressive audition for any NFL scouts watching the game, but he says it was a typical game for him.
“I have a great game every game; this one just happened to be on TV where everyone could watch,” he said. “The AFL has been a very fun experience thus far; it’s definitely a different game than outside. It’s very quick and fast paced. It’s developing me into a dominant pass rusher, which is something I lacked in college but what is essential for the NFL.”
And it is the NFL that is the ultimate goal.
“My dreams of the NFL grow stronger and stronger every day. I make sure I bring my ‘A’ game each and every game to ensure that I’ll receive a shot in the NFL again. Whatever necessary steps I have to take to get back where I belong, I plan on doing just that,” he said.
Former WVU defensive end Bruce Irvin going to Seattle with the 15th pick of the first round in this year’s draft did nothing but whet his own appetite for the NFL, while he expects Irvin to do nothing but succeed at the professional level.
“I’m happy for my boy Bruce,” he remarked. “When I hosted him on his visit back in ’08 he told me he’d come here (WVU) and help us win, dominate and go first round. He did just that and made it look so good. I wasn’t surprised that he went 15. He isn’t done shocking the world, either. Don’t be surprised if he makes the Pro Bowl this year.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.