Tennessee's freshman class features familiar names

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee is counting on family connections to help the program return to prominence.

Five players from Butch Jones' highly-touted freshman class have relatives who also played football for the Volunteers. A sixth freshman - wide receiver Vic Wharton - is the nephew of former Tennessee basketball player Brandon Wharton.

Defensive backs Evan and Elliott Berry are the younger brothers of 2009 Jim Thorpe Award winner Eric Berry and sons of former Tennessee running back James Berry. Linebacker Dillon Bates is the son of Bill Bates, who helped Tennessee earn three bowl bids from 1979-82.

Defensive back Todd Kelly Jr.'s father was part of Tennessee's 1989 and 1990 Southeastern Conference championship teams.

Linebacker Neiko Creamer is the son of Andre Creamer, who helped the Vols win an SEC title in 1985.

Despite all six freshmen having fathers or an uncle, in Vic Wharton's case, only one grew up in Knoxville. Todd Kelly, Jr., takes a lot of pride in being a homegrown talent and having the chance to play college football in his backyard.

"I am the only local guy in the class," said Kelly, who starred at The Webb School. "It is pretty cool, just going around, going to different restaurants and hearing my name and things of that nature. I went to school about 30 minutes away so I wasn't far, I got to come to all the home games last year."

One of the benefits of playing close to home, is that his parents are just a few moments away, something that is special to Kelly.

"It was a pretty cool," he said. "Ultimately my dad is right up the street so whenever I need to talk to him or need support he is always going to be there for me."

In honor of former Volunteer defensive back Inky Johnson, legacy freshman Evan Berry will wear the No. 29 jersey. Berry, also a defensive back, believes he will best embody the true meaning of representing No. 29.

On Sept. 9, 2006, Johnson suffered a career-ending injury in Neyland Stadium. Despite his inability to physically play football, Johnson continues to motivate both former and current Vols through inspirational messages.

"I think everyday people would love to be in my shoes right now, to be playing at the University of Tennessee," Berry said.

With high expectations of himself as a true freshman, Berry's enthusiasm to honor Johnson has impressed many around him.

"Just to show my respect for him, I didn't want anyone wearing that number and not really know the meaning behind that number, so I decided to take that number and wear it and represent it," Berry explained.

Alongside his brother, Elliott Berry will also honor a former Vol.

Elliott will wear the No. 41, the inverse of No. 14, to represent his older brother and All-Pro Kansas City safety Eric Berry. Eric played for Tennessee for 2007-2009, garnering All-American honors.

Five of the six legacy freshmen joined the Vols during Summer School. A key component of their regiments since arriving in Knoxville has been strength and conditioning under the supervision of Dave Lawson. The Vols' staff continues to push the Vols to new limits in the weight room and with agility and quickness. The Vols are hoping to see the results with Team 118.

"I have added about 10 or 15 pounds just being here for a few months," said linebacker Dillon Bates, who said he now weighs 232 pounds. "That is all credit to the strength coaches and hard work. It really is a great program they have us in. Coach Lawson is doing a great job. We will be working hard in the weight room then running on the field. We are also getting recovery right and the nutrition bar. We definitely have a formula for success."

Todd Kelly, Jr., has seen changes in his body which he hopes allows him to contribute right away.

"I know they play a lot of freshmen on special teams, but ultimately where ever they put me I am just going to go out there and give it all my all," said Kelly. "Right now I am weigh 203 pounds, they put that on me pretty quick and I have been able to keep my speed up as well. So I have enjoyed it but wherever they put me that is where I am going to play.

Vic Wharton has been surprised with the immediate impact the strength staff has made on his physique.

"I wasn't expecting it to be so challenging but I'm happy that it is," he said. "I don't think there's a better strength coach in the country other than Coach Lawson. I just feel that my gains have been tremendous and I never expected to be as strong as I am now."

Representing the Volunteer state among the six legacy freshmen, Tennessee natives Todd Kelly and Vic Wharton are not unfamiliar with sharing the same field. While growing up in the Greater Knoxville and Nashville areas, Kelly and Wharton played on the same Little League football team and had just as much chemistry and bond then as they're anticipated to have for the Vols.

"We called ourselves the `Dynamic Duo' back in the day," said Kelly. "Our team went down to Atlanta to play. We didn't end up getting to play the Berry brothers but they were in the same tournament."

Despite moving on to attended different high schools, Kelly and Wharton's competitive roots began at an early age together. Now within reach of their lifelong dreams at UT, the two freshmen have quickly resumed their friendly competitions while continuing to push each other.

"I always say that I am better and he always says he is better," added Wharton.

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