Responsibility. The word may be long, but it’s one of the most important words, and meanings, to learn in this world.
Over the course of his athletic career at Northwest High School — and especially in his final season of play — senior student-athlete Hunter Berry has been the definition of responsible.
A three-sport athlete in soccer, basketball, and baseball, Berry, according to Northwest boys soccer head coach Josh Keeney, took it upon himself to run practices until the veteran head coach got to the field from his after-school duties.
The well-built senior also led a defense that proceeded to be an integral part of Northwest’s constant improvement on the soccer pitch from 2014 to 2017 — with the Mohawks more than tripling their win total from six to 19 victories during that stretch.
And because of that continued persistence from a work ethic and leadership standpoint, Berry now has obtained a rare opportunity that will have him playing the sport, the same sport that provided him with so much joy, at the collegiate level as the junior will be heading to Ohio Christian University to play soccer for the next four years. The senior made the signing official on Wednesday afternoon in a signing that was held on the campus of Northwest High School.
For Berry, signing with Ohio Christian was an opportunity that the senior never thought that he’d have when beginning to play the sport.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Berry said. “I can’t wait to get to Ohio Christian and suit up for the Trailblazers in the fall. I’m excited to continue to play soccer. I never thought that I’d be playing soccer in college. I’m very excited.”
However, the opportunity that Berry obtained is one that Keeney, his now-former coach, and 11th-year Ohio Christian University leader Josh Murton, his future head coach, knew that Berry deserved because of his responsiblity and attention to detail at all levels.
“Hunter was one of our best leaders and brought the young kids a long way,” Keeney said. “He’s so physical and plays so hard that it’s going to be hard to replace him. He’s helped those younger guys a lot and has brought the program a long way. I’m really proud of him.”
“Having Hunter is a big deal for us, not just on the field, but off of it, as well,” Murton said. “He’s a good team guy and he’s a hard worker. Defensively, he’s going to be phenomenal for us, and he has a big upside to him. There’s a lot of growth that can be made from him in our program, so we’re really excited, not just from the point from where he gets on campus, but what he looks like when he becomes a junior or a senior.”
With a sturdy frame and a relentless work ethic, Berry has drawn great praise from not only Keeney, but his fellow coaches. Jason Smith, who coached Berry in Northwest’s basketball program, routinely referred to the senior — who played at a forward position opposite All-Southeast District honoree Kyle Leslie — as the best defender on his unit, and one of the best in the entire conference.
The same can definitely be said for Berry on the soccer pitch, where the senior ultimately improved Northwest’s record from 6-6-5 in 2014 to 13-5 in 2015, 13-6 in 2016, and 19-1 in 2017. During that stretch, Northwest posted goals against averages of 1.53 or less in each of those four seasons after not posting an average below 2.0 from as far back as records go in 2004.
In addition to those marks, the defense’s ability to possess the ball — thanks to the work of Berry in the middle of the backline — allowed the offense to ultimately go on a tear of its own. The Mohawks went from 1.94 goals for average in 2014 to marks of 2.5 and 3.0 in Berry’s sophomore and junior campaigns before rocketing all the way up to an astounding 7.05 in Berry’s final campaign with Northwest in 2017.
So when one sees all of those stats, it’s easy to see why Berry will not only stay put on the backline in college, but will ultimately be a valued commodity at that position.
“From the standpoint of the system, he’s going to fit in really well,” Murton said. “He’s physical, he’s strong, and he’s going to be a guy that’s going to do a good job of communicating with the backline, so I believe that it fits him really well. We definitely see Hunter on the back line. We have a need there, and he’s going to help fill that. He’ll be on the back line, without a doubt.”
And Berry’s communication, not only during games, but in practices, were key in setting the tone for Northwest’s best season in school history.
During each practice, Berry, along with fellow captain Tyler Webb, would be the main cogs directing stretches and workouts before Keeney got to practices.
That leadership, as a result, more than carried over to the actual contests themselves as the 19-1 Mohawks won 17 of their 19 affairs by five goals or more and blew through its Division III, Waverly I District competition en route to a long-awaited Division III District Championship. A loss to South Webster in the Division III, Region 11 Semifinals by a 2-1 tally may have ended the dream season, but it certainly will never erase the memories that either Keeney, or Berry, developed from the unit.
“He’s one of those guys that will get the guys together and talk to them when they need to be talked to, and that’s without me having to be there,” Keeney said. “He’ll run practice when I’m a few minutes late or this and that. He’s just an exceptional leader. I believe those qualities will translate really well to the next level. It looks like he’ll have a chance to play right away as a freshman on the defensive backline for them.”
“I want to thank those guys for the season that we had,” Berry said. “It was very special. Couldn’t have done it without them. It takes a team to win all of those games. Unfortunately, it came to an end, but it was a great season.”
“It’s a big deal,” Murton said of Berry’s role and responsibility inside the Northwest program. “You’re looking at, when you recruit, what your players can possibly turn into when they’re juniors and seniors. Being on a successful team, and conducting himself the way that he does, says a lot. He’s coachable, right now. He is. He’s a coachable guy. That’s a kid that’s going to be a leader, so we’re excited.”
At Ohio Christian, Berry will get to play for a widely-successful coach in Murton, who is the winningest head coach in Ohio Christian University soccer history with his 109-90-9 mark. The 11th year head coach has posted winning records in each of his first eight seasons, has led the Trailblazers to six regional titles and three top-three finishes in the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association (NCCAA) national rankings, and has guided OCU to two NCCAA Championship Games (2010, 2014) en route to developing a new winning penchant.
There, Berry will be joining forces with several Southeast District soccer hands, including sophomores Jeremiah Martindale (Reedsville Eastern), Ezekiel Acosta (North Adams), Jesse Current (Fairfield), Eric Fahrer (Jackson), and Garrett Stulley (Waverly), along with junior Aaron Pertuset (North Adams). In addition to those six players, Chase Thorpe (Jackson) and Kyle Luneke (Lynchburg-Clay) are among the Southeast District players that will be alongside Berry in the 2018 Ohio Christian University recruiting class, which will make the Trailblazers’ soccer program a second home of sorts.
“The campus is small and spread out, and I liked that,” Berry said. “Then, I went up (to Circleville) for a soccer visit, and the guys were really welcoming. Not one bad thing was said. They were all welcoming. It seemed like they were excited that I was coming, so I became excited at that point, too.”
“That’s so huge for us, because we are Southern Ohio,” Murton said. “We’ve made a more conscious effort over the past three to four years to really get homegrown. We’ve had North Adams kids, we’ve had Waverly kids, and this year, we’re bringing in a young man from Chillicothe among other places. We should be prioritizing Southern Ohio. This is where we are and these are the kind of kids that we really need to invest in. I’m a Southern Ohio guy. I grew up in Chillicothe, so it’s really been important for me, this program, and our school to really pour into Southern Ohio.”
“Hunter seemed like he really liked Ohio Christian the best,” Keeney said. “He really thought that they were family oriented and that they treated him really well. He just felt really comfortable there. Also, it looked as if he could come in right away and start on a good team. As long as he keeps working hard, like he always has, he’ll be fine, and he should get some playing time during his freshman year.”
With his efforts across multiple sports apparent, along with the leadership skills that have made him into the fine young man that many admire, it’s clear that Hunter Berry is an individual that is more than deserving of the opportunities that lie ahead of him.
“It’s easy to talk about the on-the-field stuff, because his toughness and grit, along with his leadership, are visible,” Murton said. “However, how persistent he was with his communication and how driven he was in getting the paperwork done to get to this stage, shows a great deal of maturity and a desire, or a want, to be a part of what we’re doing. That really stood out to me, because we’re not looking just at what these guys are doing on the field, but what they bring to the table off of the field. He’s the prime example of what we’re looking for.”
“It’s very exciting,” Keeney said. “Hunter’s definitely come a long way. When he was a freshman, I never thought that he would be at this stage signing with a college to play soccer, but I’m really excited for him and I’m really excited for Tyler Webb, as well. Having those two guys this year as our two leaders and captains to go and play at the next level is thrilling. I’m definitely excited to see where they can go from here.”
And regardless of the turns that his collegiate soccer career takes, Berry will always remember the special and once-in-a-lifetime memories he made with his soccer teammates during the special fall season that was 2017.
“There might not be a season like this past one for a while,” Berry said. “I’m glad it was with the teammates that I had, along with (Josh) Keeney, (Jacob) Hackworth, and (Chaise) Hall. I’m definitely proud of that.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT