Originally written May 02, 2012 on Fox Sports Kansas City:
If 40 is the new 30, then 23 is the new 16. Your body is all grown up. The rest of you is under construction, a row of orange cones and Jell-O shots, waiting for life to pave the snot out of you. You're frisky, free, and invincible, at the height of your powers as a young man. You can work forever, party forever. At 23, you're convinced you know everything. Spoiler alert: You don't. "I was always motivated, always worked hard, but you always got that one little feeling like, Man, if I could go back, I'd do this,' " Chiefs safety Eric Berry said the other day. "Or I'd just be a little more excited I won't complain about doing this extra rep or this extra workout. I'd do anything to get out there and do it again." Talent is God-given. Perspective is learned. "Enjoy it while you can," Berry said. "That's the biggest thing." From a maturity standpoint, the Georgia native is 23 going on 42, wise beyond his years. As a rookie in 2010, Berry had it all: The hype, the reps, the numbers, the playoffs, the Pro Bowl, the love. In 2011, one game in, and it was gone. "It was one of those things where I kind of grew up off the field," offered Berry, who suffered a torn left ACL last September 11 in the season-opener against Buffalo. "I watched the game differently. I watched it (like) a defensive coordinator. Instead of Eric Berry, just Eric Berry the safety, (Number) 29, making sure I'm doing my job, I try to see the whole picture I didn't have to worry about getting ready for practice. I could pretty much just sit back and try to see what the offense was trying to do to the defense. "So I watched a lot of football this year, both college and NFL, and I think just my whole mindset toward the game has changed. You know? I kind of just try to see the big picture of everything, instead of just having tunnel vision, just for my position or just one side of the ball. I try to see everything for what it is (in) the grand scheme." At 23, you don't sweat the grand scheme. You mow through life with blinders and a smile. You're too busy marking your territory to worry about the big picture. Unless, of course, something you hold dear gets taken away. Loss makes you think. Loss makes you reflect. Loss can test a wise man in a hurry. "I've always been motivated," said Berry, who's been working out at the Chiefs' training facility for the past two weeks and expects to be at full speed by the time training camp rolls around in July. "But at the same time, I've never been away from the game for so long." A wise man learns to focus less on the tunnel and more on the light at the end of it. Ever since he broke into the starting lineup at the University of Tennessee as a true freshman in 2007, Berry had made it a point of pride to never miss a single practice, let alone a season. Once the shock of the injury wears off, you're thrust into the slow, monotonous grind of rehab. Although being within earshot of teammates Tony Moeaki and Jamaal Charles, who also suffered season-ending knee injuries last fall, helped to ease the load. "We went through so much," Berry recalled. "We have so much in common, because nobody can truly feel what we felt. "I came in some days, and I might be slacking, or whatever, and be like, Man, I just don't feel like doing it today.' But that might be Jamal's good day or that'd be Tony's good day. He'd be like, Come on, let's do this.' Or vice versa: Jamal might feel bad, and I'd lift him up. We just kind of took care of each other." A wise man learns the folly of second-guessing the past. Berry got hurt when Bills wideout Stevie Johnson dove at his knee, lowering his helmet on a cut block. In March, as the fallout from the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal reached its apex, the Chiefs defender tweeted that he'd wondered if Buffalo "had a bounty out on me oh well who cares. Either way u can't hold me down." "That was just a joke," Berry would say later. "You got tape. You can look at the tape and make your own opinion about that. My opinion is my opinion. People (are) going to take it how they want anyway. To me, that's in the past. It is what it is." A wise man learns to let go. Eventually. You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com
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