By Matt Popchock
Now that we have a firm idea of when in the near future the Pittsburgh Power begin training camp, there’s no time like the present to resume “Know Your Pittsburgh Power,” our brand new, hastily-assembled series that introduces you to the 2012 squad.
In preparation for their second season in the Arena Football League, the Power added some proven veterans to their young core. One of them is wide receiver/kick returner P.J. Berry, who earned 2011 First Team All-Arena honors as a returner, and won the Ironman of the Year award after a historic campaign with the fledgling New Orleans VooDoo.
The 29-year-old Berry set the league record for single-season all-purpose yardage by amassing 3,708 yards from both positions, while scoring 41 total touchdowns. Five of those TD’s came via kick returns, including a memorable one against the Arizona Rattlers (this highlight cuts off before the play ends, but we’ll leave the rest to your imagination):
Another of his special teams scores came at the expense of the Power at “The Graveyard”–better known as New Orleans Arena–Apr. 21, 2011. Although the Power defeated New Orleans, 56-49, Berry did plenty of damage, racking up 242 yards–151 of which came on kicks–and three touchdowns altogether.
That was the Power’s third win of its inaugural season, and for the VooDoo, it was one of nine home losses in a season that saw them limp to a league-low 3-15. Head coach Derek Stingley was fired June 26, with four games remaining.
But Berry and Stingley have been reunited in Pittsburgh, as head coach Chris Siegfried tabbed him to be the Power’s new defensive coordinator. He’ll also be seeing a lot of Chris Wallace, who takes over as the Power’s quarterbacks coach after spending time under center with both teams before retiring as a player in 2011.
Berry and Siegfried, specifically, go back a while. Berry had a successful career playing both aforementioned positions at Virginia State, which competes in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the FCS, and is also the alma mater of current Power defensive lineman Neil Purvis. Siegfried gave him a tryout in 2007, when he was coaching the Arkansas Twisters of the now-defunct AF2 developmental league, but the Division II standout took an assignment with the South Georgia Wildcats of AF2 instead.
He amassed well over 3,000 all-purpose yards for the Wildcats in 2008, and 34 total TD’s–28 as a receiver, and six as a returner–to earn an All-AF2 nod. Berry then joined the Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings, which were absorbed into the new AFL, for the next two years.
Although his all-purpose yardage slipped to 2,500-and-change in 2010, he bested himself with 37 TD’s, including 33 as a receiver. Following the end of that season, the Battle Wings became the second incarnation of the New Orleans VooDoo. In 2011 Berry ranked third in the AFL with 155 catches and led the league with 2,058 kick return yards, averaging over 20 per attempt. For his efforts he was named to the AFL’s All-Ironman Team.
When veterans Jerome Mathis and Jason Willis were unable to provide consistency (or stay healthy) to the Power’s return game, Siegfried experimented with popular receiver Mike Washington in that spot…an experiment that achieved some success. Not only can Berry shore up that phase of the game for the Power, but he also adds depth to a receiving corps led by Washington that was already considered a position of strength.
We caught up with Berry to discuss his arrival in Pittsburgh, his goals for the 2012 season, and how “Clark Kent” earned the nickname “Superman”:
WERE YOU AWARE? Berry was also an All-Region centerfielder on Hopewell High School’s baseball team in his native Hopewell, Virginia, and led Division II in stolen bases in 2005 while playing that sport for Virginia State. He is just the second man in that school’s history to be named an All-American in football.
The Power open in Orlando against the Predators Fri., Mar. 9, and Pittsburgh’s CW (WPCW-TV) has agreed to expand its coverage of the team this year. Click here for more information, including TV listings.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)