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Latin Berry Comes Home Again, Finally

Oct 18, 2013

By Rob Moseley

As a four-time all-American in track and field, and a three-year starter in football, former Oregon two-sport star Latin Berry figured he had enjoyed enough time in the spotlight.

When a representative of the UO athletic department tried contacting him about being inducted into the Oregon Athletics Hall of Fame, Berry didn’t return the call. Make that calls, plural.

“I really enjoyed it when it was my time,” Berry said Thursday, after arriving in Portland for this weekend’s induction ceremony. “Now I’m embarrassed.”

Like it or not, the spotlight has found Berry again. He’s one of six honorees in this year’s Hall of Fame class, which will be recognized at a banquet Friday evening in the Club at Autzen Stadium, and during halftime of the Ducks’ game Saturday night against Washington State.

“I made up my mind, the glory days were over for me,” Berry said. “I didn’t need to be here. But they didn’t give up.

“My gosh,” he added with a laugh, “they didn’t give up.”

Ultimately it was Berry’s wife, Rosalind, who became the contact person for this weekend. With her prodding, the Milwaukie High graduate is back in his home state, to be honored along with track and cross country coach Tom Heinonen, track and field administrator Bob Newland Sr., the 1987 NCAA champion women’s cross country team, men’s golfer Craig Griswold and football assistant coach Joe Schaffeld.

Berry will be attending his first game at Autzen Stadium since his playing career ended in 1989. He was a four-year letterman and three-year starter at fullback, paving the way for Derek Loville, Oregon’s all-time leading rusher until LaMichael James came along. Berry was also a five-time conference champion as a long jumper and triple jumper, and he still holds the UO outdoor record in the long jump of 26 feet, 8 ½ inches.

But, Berry said, “when I think about the good ol’ days, there’s not really a moment that stands out. What I miss the most, and always have, is the locker room. You love the sport and all that – that’s great stuff. But ultimately when you can’t put on the helmet again, you know you’re not going to find friends like you had on the football field.”

These days, Berry makes his home in Louisiana, where he works construction.

“I’m in SEC territory,” Berry said, his easy laugh beginning again. “So all I hear about is LSU and Alabama and all those teams. Some people hadn’t even heard of Oregon until I got out there and started running my mouth. I told them, ‘We’re coming.’”

Sure enough, the UO football program has exploded onto the national scene in recent years. And while the only games he’s attended since graduating are a Sun Bowl and a Cotton Bowl, Berry has enjoyed it as much as anyone.

He’s particularly impressed with the current football team’s depth, which has allowed it to thrive late in the season. That’s when teams of Berry’s generation might have been fading, as injuries took their toll in an era of more pronounced separation between starters and backup.

“I’m just proud that now the nation knows about the University of Oregon,” he said.

Berry’s daughter, eighth-grader Latyana, is a budding track prodigy herself. Latin and Rosalind Berry are committed to moving back to his home state eventually, but only after seeing Latyana through high school.

Until then, Berry will enjoy his brief weekend visit, and his time in the spotlight as a Hall of Fame inductee. Even if it makes him feel a little awkward.

“It’s been so long,” Berry said. “Everything I’ve seen on television, I want to see it one good time and enjoy it like everyone else.

“It’s going to be nerve-racking, but I’m looking forward to it.”