July 18, 2014
By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.-- Their bonds to the University of Tennessee run along family lines, and now the "Legacy Class" is together on campus, beginning to solidify their bond as a football family.
Dillon Bates, Elliott Berry, Evan Berry, Neiko Creamer, Todd Kelly, Jr. and Vic Wharton have had a long build-up to becoming Volunteers, now the road to kickoff is within sight and the common thread that helped bring them all to UT is providing the motivation to get them ready for day one for Team 118.
"I met these guys through camps and it was great, especially when we were all still trying to figure out where we were going to school," Creamer said of he and his five teammates, who spoke to the media for the first time on Friday afternoon at the Anderson Training Center. "We had that one common domain that was the University of Tennessee."
Wharton was the first "Brick" in the class, his commitment a Christmas Day gift to Jones in his first month on the job as head coach of the Volunteers. From that day, the nephew of former Vol basketball player Brandon Wharton helped Jones and his staff recruit his new classmates, including his fellow legacy players. Now Wharton is on campus, realizing a dream that started over a decade ago and became an even stronger reality on Christmas 2012.
"It's great just to be here finally," Wharton said. "I've been waiting for this my whole life, seeing my uncle, growing up a Tennessee fan, watching him play. It's surreal, really. I'm trying to adjust to everything and enjoying my time so far."
Elliott and Evan Berry were even more connected. The twins always planned to attend the same school, and with the ties to their father James and older brother Eric, Tennessee seemed like a natural landing spot. But the brothers took their time in the recruiting process, wanting to be sure the emotional attachment they had always had to UT meant that it was their best place for their college careers.
"I always felt like I was coming to Tennessee," Elliott Berry said. "I just wanted to be make sure that I was 100% that this was where I wanted to be."
Eric Berry's sales pitch for his brothers was simple.
"That this was the greatest place on Earth," Elliott Berry said of his brother's thought on Tennessee. "And I agree, I love Knoxville. He loved the fans here. When you explain why you love a place, it's hard to talk about. You just know. You can't really put words to it."
Evan Berry said the expectations that the family's name brings to he and Elliott isn't a burden. In fact, it's the opposite.
"I embraced it," he said. "It's always good to have a milestone in front of you and goals ahead of you, especially made by your family members."
Dillon Bates knew his father Bill was a Vol legend, but the elder Bates never pushed his son to UT. A hurricane did it for him. Hurricane Frances forced the Bates family to evacuate their Florida home in 2004, sending the family to East Tennessee just in time for the 2004 opener against UNLV, a game played on a Sunday night, just as the first of Dillon's career will be.
It was his first time in Neyland Stadium, beginning a love affair with football and with Tennessee that lasted through his college decision.
"Seeing my dad's name everywhere, it stuck with me that this is something I want to do and this is somewhere that I want to be, somewhere I fell in love with," Bates said. "I'm happy to be here, this is where I wanted to be."
Kelly was a childhood friend of Wharton growing up in Knoxville and they maintained their relationship after Wharton moved to Spring Hill. Partly thanks to his friend's urging, Kelly committed early on in the process and set out to build communication with his future teammates.
"I'm rooming with Dillon and we've been talking for a year before we even got here," Kelly said when asked for an example of the communication between the members of the class. "We're finally all here and we're well-connected like we've been here for awhile."
Wharton said the camaraderie that helped to build the recruiting class has made them into a strong freshman class.
"It's great, he said of the time spent together since arriving on campus. "We couldn't ask for a better class, our entire class gets along great. I can't believe that we're all finally here, this class that we all dreamed of having."
Elliott Berry says that dream doesn't end with them just being here together. It ends with them bringing Tennessee to the next level.
"Tennessee has always been close to all of our hearts," he said. "The fact that we're in the position and have the opportunity to put Tennessee back at the top, it's a big deal to me."