Transfers often leave college football’s big stage, exiting the spotlight and never catching another glimpse. Jaamal Berry hopes to be an exception to that norm.
He left Ohio State prior to 2012 spring practice due to several run-ins with the law and found his footing in southwestern Kentucky at Murray State. Berry was the Racers’ leading rusher in 2012 (675 yards, seven touchdowns) and 2013 (668 yards, five touchdowns) and had a combined 434 yards receiving. The production garnered attention from afar in the NFL.
When the time came to work out for GMs, scouts and head coaches, Berry found refuge with the Buckeyes. He boarded a plane in South Florida and flew north to Columbus to display his skills at Ohio State’s Pro Day. The Woody Hayes Athletic Center offered familiar grounds and a sense of normalcy for Berry on a pressure packed day.
But as Berry was warming up, he received the unfortunate news that the trip was all for naught. Players can only work out at their own college or hometown, and Ohio State and Columbus represented neither for Berry. So the four-star prospect was left to ponder what if.
“I was warming up, getting ready to go. I felt good,” Berry said. “But unfortunately, those are the rules and I have to follow them.”
Berry would get his chance to impress scouts and front office types in Murray, Ky., and he took advantage of the opportunity. Murray State head coach Chris Hatcher believes Berry could be a late-round pick and several draft analysts have pegged him as a small-school steal. If Berry doesn’t hear his name among the draft’s 256 selections, his phone will be buzzing at its conclusion with teams coveting him as an undrafted free agent.
During Ohio State’s 12-1 season of 2010, which would be Jim Tressel’s last at the school, Berry gained 266 yards on 32 carries, an average of more than eight yard per touch. But he played sparingly the following year as the program transitioned and the offense became stagnant.
“Leaving here was a big wake up call for me, even going to a smaller school,” Berry said. “A lot of things that I got here weren’t going down at Murray State. It made me grow up real fast and appreciate the moment, live in the moment. So I’m definitely grateful for that.”
Berry averaged 7.1 yards per carry in 2012 and 5.3 in 2013. He doesn’t look at the past with regrets because of the good that’s come out of his situation, but Berry realizes if given a second chance, he would take a different route and mature before being dismissed from the team.
But he harbors no ill will toward Ohio State or Urban Meyer. As the Buckeyes went 24-2 the past two seasons, Berry’s Murray State teams were 11-13. It didn’t stop him from cheering on his friends and former teammates, though. Any time he could sneak a peek of the Buckeyes, he did so.
“They’re still some of my closest friends and that’s definitely one thing I miss about [Ohio State],” Berry said. “I root for them every Saturday and just like I’m a Buckeye fan.”
When you’re a highly touted high school player, you go to college to play football. There’s little secret to the method, even if the NCAA would like you to think differently. But Berry isn’t most proud of the yards or touchdowns, his shinning moment came in December when he graduated from Murray State.
There was one person that came to mind during that ceremony. And Berry had a strong urge to give him a call. So he dialed Tressel.
“I let him know I graduated and thanked him for the opportunity to experience some of the best years of my life [at Ohio State],” Berry said. “He’s one guy who gave me the opportunity to come here because he's the guy who recruited me.”
A second phone call could be on the way this weekend.