Berrier back, running for unbeaten St. Paul's Healthy return: Senior has Crusaders in position to win MIAA B title today.

November 10, 1995|By Steven Kivinski | Steven Kivinski,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Brian Abbott was coaching McDonogh's JV football team when he first saw Chris Berrier plowing over defenders on the gridiron.

"Once he got moving, no one could stop him," said Abbott, now in his second year as head coach at St. Paul's. "I knew right away he had a lot of promise."

What Abbott didn't know at that time was that Berrier, then an eighth-grader playing his first year of organized football for St. Paul's Middle School squad, would one day help put his team in position to go undefeated and win a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference Championship.

That's precisely what Berrier has done.

After spending his junior year sidelined with a broken bone near the shaft of his pinky toe, Berrier is back, healthy, and running harder than ever.

As a result, No. 6 St. Paul's is 9-0 overall and 5-0 in its league heading into today's season finale with archrival Boys' Latin (7-2, 5-0). The outcome of the game, slated for a 2:30 kickoff at St. Paul's, will determine this year's MIAA B Conference champion.

"Chris has been on the varsity since his freshman year and he's always had the ability to break tackles," said Abbott, the Crusaders' second-year coach. "He'll break three or four tackles at a time and he rarely gets stopped for a loss."

Nor does he cough up the ball.

Berrier, who is being wooed by a number of the nation's top Division I lacrosse programs, has carried the ball 185 times this season for 1,534 yards (8.3 yards per carry) and 21 touchdowns. While he did fumble the ball once this season, he did manage to recover it -- for a gain.

"Chris always finds a way to turn a negative into a positive," said Abbott, who has watched Berrier record 42 tackles, including 16 behind the line of scrimmage, from his position at strong safety. "When he injured his foot, he didn't sit around and pout. He got in the weight room and made himself bigger and stronger."

Berrier's injury, a fracture at the base of the fifth metatarsal on the left foot, was mollified by surgery last summer when a doctor inserted a titanium screw into his foot. Now, four months after surgery and 16 months since injuring the foot in a preseason scrimmage with Sidwell Friends, Berrier is back to 100 percent.

"I couldn't have planned this year any better," said the 5-11, 205 pounder from Owings Mills. "If I would have drawn the script up myself, this is exactly how it would be."

Berrier's storybook season has enabled him to amass a school career record of 2,879 yards and 32 touchdowns. While Berrier's stats this season have been impressive, his numbers could be even gaudier had he not been reduced to a spectator in the third and fourth quarters of many of his games.

For example, Berrier touched the ball only seven times in last week's win over Curley, but still managed to run for 154 yards and four touchdowns. In a win against the defending B Conference champions from Severn, the tailback was given the fourth quarter off after gaining 223 yards and four touchdowns in the previous three.

"We could keep him in there and run up his stats but we don't," said Abbott. "It doesn't prove anything and it's not fair to our opponents."

Former St. Paul's coach Mitch Tullai said he came across his share of gifted athletes in his 41 years as the Crusaders' football coach, but none as "flawless" as Berrier.

"Chris is one of the finest young men you will ever come across," said Tullai, who will see St. Paul's athletic field named in his honor after today's game. "He's not only an outstanding athlete but one of the academic leaders in his class.

"You look at him and say, 'There's got to be a flaw in this kid,' but there's not. He's the kind of kid you would love to have as a son."

Not a bad guy to have in your backfield, either.

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