- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2015

HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) - Devon Berry isn’t a starter for the Hampton High School football team. But when he gets the sign to take the field, the senior defensive tackle is ready to go.

In jersey No. 62, Berry heads from the sidelines to the line of scrimmage with his game face on, just like his teammates. Only Berry’s on his knees.

Born with cerebral palsy, Berry’s legs are weak, requiring him to use a walker or wheelchair. What he lacks in leg strength he makes up for in upper body strength. And with his will and determination, Berry competes in three sports alongside his able-bodied classmates.

“I can do it because I have faith in God,” Berry said on Sept. 10. “Having confidence is the start of having success.”

As far back as kindergarten, Berry said he had his doubters. His physical disability didn’t affect his mind, and he didn’t need special education classes.

“I basically had to prove I could do the work,” he said.

The honor student now carries a 3.7 GPA. Outside the classroom, sports consume Berry’s life, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. In addition to football, Berry wrestles and throws the shot put and discus for his school. He also plays wheelchair basketball and handball. And for Berry, it’s not just about putting on the uniform. He’s there to compete.

“If I’m gonna line up and you’re gonna line up, we’re gonna play football,” Berry said. “I’m not going to let you hit me.”

Berry’s positive attitude and determination are an inspiration to his teammates, coaches and opponents.

“He’s one of the most optimistic kids you’ll ever meet,” Hampton coach Chad Ashley said.

But his spot on the football team wasn’t just handed to him, Ashley said. Berry wears the jersey because he practices alongside his teammates and hits the weight room for 6:45 a.m. training.

“He’s done everything everyone else has done,” Ashley said.

It’s his faith that Berry says sparks his determination to overcome his disability, and his accomplishments are getting attention. After Hampton’s loss to Sandy Creek, a player on the opposing team was so impressed by Berry, he wanted to shake his hand after the game.

Benjamin Rutland’s mom got a picture of the two players together and posted it on her Facebook page with a message about Berry. That post got shared on social media. Within days, thousands had seen the post and image of Rutland next to Berry, standing with his walker.

Then, Berry said things got crazy. He got hundreds of Facebook friend requests and multiple requests for interviews. Local TV stations pulled up at the football field, and an ESPN crew showed up for a future story.

“I don’t like to brag,” Berry said, “but I want to be an inspiration.”

As soon as football season ends, Berry will switch to the sport that he hopes will earn him a college scholarship: wrestling. Berry says he’s verbally committed to wrestle for St. Cloud State in Minnesota. He plans to study broadcast journalism with hopes of being a sportscaster. Or maybe, he’ll run a company that makes products that help others with similar disabilities, he said.

His video technology teacher, Bruce Johnson, says Berry is destined to succeed, no matter his path. “He’s got it where it counts. He’s got the heart.”

___

Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, http://www.ajc.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide