When he left his Stone Mountain, Ga., home for Savannah State, Chennis Berry figured to continue his career as a tight end for the next four years.
His body had other plans.
“I grew into a 300-pound left tackle,” Berry said.
His time in the trenches helped pave the way for the life he knows now.
Entering his first season as Southern’s offensive line coach, Berry continues a coaching career that has included stops coaching linemen at North Carolina A&T, Morgan State and, most recently, Howard University.
He will also serve as Southern’s co-offensive coordinator, sharing the title with quarterbacks coach Chad Germany.
Berry inherits an offensive line that returns starters at four of five positions and adds LSU transfer Cory White.
He plays a role in growing an offense that welcomes back senior signal-caller Dray Joseph, who led the Southwestern Athletic Conference in passing last year.
Wearing a floppy hat, grey Southern sweats and a whistle around his neck, Berry helped lead the Southern offense through its second session of spring football practice Thursday afternoon.
Rather than marry themselves to a particular scheme, Berry said the Jaguars would use multiple sets and play to their strengths.
“You’ve got to do everything based off your personnel and fit your scheme based off your personnel,” Berry said. “A lot of people have mindsets about what they want to do offensively, but you have to see what kind of players you have.”
It’s no secret what kind of player Southern has behind center.
To take advantage of their most obvious offensive weapon, Berry said he and Germany plan to have Joseph working out of the shotgun formation more this season.
They want to utilize not only the arm that passed for 2,511 yards and 25 touchdowns last year, but also the legs they feel can keep defenses guessing.
They’ve already installed a zone read option.
“I feel real good about Dray Joseph at quarterback,” Berry said, “so we want to put the ball in his hands and let him make plays.”
Southern coach Dawson Odums said he believes some of the “new wrinkles” on offense could help Southern catch opponents off-guard.
“But you know what we’re going to do,” he added. “We’re going to spread the defense out, put the ball in the hands of what I think is one of the better quarterbacks and see if we can’t make it happen.”
One of three new coaches Odums brought aboard for his first full season at the helm, Berry has a history with the Southern coach that traces to their days coaching together at North Carolina A&T, where Odums served as defensive coordinator and Berry ran the offense.
“We knew we’d work together again someday,” Berry said.
Odums said Berry and Germany, who called the plays for Southern last season, both have their strengths.
By sharing the coordinator’s role, Odums believes the two can bring balance to an offense that ranked 10th in the SWAC last year in rushing.
“We’re going to probably do a little more no-huddle than we’ve done in the past, but I think it will fit what we do best,” Odums said. “We’re going to be multiple.”
Berry said the offense Southern fans see this season may not necessarily be the one they see in years to come.
It depends on the personnel.
“I believe in having balance, run and pass,” he said. “But you want to put the ball in your playmakers’ hands and let them make plays.”