When senior John Berry learned that his kidney would be a suitable match for his brother DeAngelo, who was diagnosed with renal failure in Dec, 1998, he knew at once what he had to do. His brother was fatally ill, and Berry donated one of his kidneys to save him; the thought of forgoing the rest of his auspicious football career in the process never even crossed his mind.
Little did Berry know that what was for him an easy, natural decision would later win him the NCAA Award of Valor, a prestigious award that has only been given out seven times in the past 15 years.
Earlier this month, Berry, his family and Williams head football coach Dick Farley all flew out to San Diego to attend the 2000 NCAA Honors Dinner, which was held on Saturday, Jan. 8 at the San Diego Convention Center and attended by roughly 1500 people. Berry was one of a group of 16 award recipients, which included nine college athletes, six anniversary award winners (including ex-football star Pat Haden) and one Theodore Roosevelt Award winner — former Dallas Cowboys star Roger Staubach. Berry was also one of four speakers, taking the podium between Haden and Staubach. “It was an overwhelming experience,” Berry said. “From the moment I walked in, I was bombarded with people involved with the NCAA. To be in that company was awesome—I had a feeling of deep humility.”
For Berry, the whole trip was a new and unforgettable experience. “There is so much to remember,” Berry said. “I had never been to the West Coast before…I’ll never forget how beautiful San Diego looked at sunset, or walking into a hotel room full of people, half not knowing who I was.” Berry also had the rare opportunity to meet Archie Griffin, Dick Emberg, Staubach and Haden, all of whom Berry holds in high regard.
“The evening was really about honoring people who embody the sense of ideals of being a student athlete,” Berry said. “I’m happy that the NCAA had an evening such as this, seeing these ideals recognized.”
Berry’s speech was extremely well received and earned a standing ovation. In it, Berry thanked his family and Farley, whom he considers a part of the family, and tried to convey the message that “the award isn’t really about me; it’s about all the people who have touched me in my life.”
After Berry’s speech, Farley joined him at the podium to present him with the award, at Berry’s request. “I was glad to be there with him and share the experience,” Farley said. “I know we’ll both relish it for a long time.” Berry’s decision to have Farley present him with the award is indicative of the very close relationship that has formed between the two, especially during the past season when Berry served as a secondary coach.
“Coach Farley has been like a second father to me,” Berry said. “He has taught me so much about the game of football, but what I will cherish most are the life lessons that he’s taught me…This friendship is one of the most important things to me in my life.”
It is perhaps Farley’s influence and tutelage that has prompted Berry to pursue a career in coaching football. Berry worked very closely with Farley and the rest of the coaching staff this past season, attending all the private coaches meetings, assisting in recruiting, analyzing videos and learning about the many intricacies that go into preparing for every week. Berry is now determined to continue coaching and build on the skills that he learned as an assistant coach this past season.
“I think he appreciated the responsibility and saw the sport from a totally different side; it was a great learning experience for him,” Farley said.
“I enjoyed every aspect,” Berry said. “Really getting involved with it and engrossing myself in it made it all come together. Coaching felt very natural to me, and I was immediately drawn to it.”
Berry understands the difficult, sometimes frustrating work that goes into coaching, but he welcomes the challenge.
He wishes to remain part of the athletic community and work with young people. “It’s a very taxing profession, but nonetheless, after every practice, you feel that you’ve touched someone’s life,” Berry said.
Berry made many contacts at the NCAA banquet and already has a tentative offer at Princeton University next fall as an assistant to the secondary coach and intern in the athletic department. Berry will be hard at work over the next several months sending out resumes and meeting with different athletic departments, but it will be awhile before he knows for sure where he will be next year.
“His decision to go into coaching doesn’t surprise me; he’s the kind of person who wants to give back [to education and athletics],” Farley said. “There are more people like him needed in the profession.”