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Making History

Published on April 18, 2023

Chad Bonham
This article appears in the Fall 2021 issue of the FCA Donor Publication. The FCA publication is a gift from our FCA staff to all donors giving $50 or more annually. For more information about giving, visit here.

It sounded outlandish at the time, but Harvard Head Football Coach Tim Murphy proved to be prophetic in 2009 when he boldly stated that his former star cornerback Andrew Berry would be running an NFL team by the time he was 37 years old. 

Amazingly, Berry was named General Manager and Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Cleveland Browns on January 27, 2020—five years earlier than Murphy predicted—making Berry the youngest GM in league history at the age of 32. 

Murphy wasn’t the only one unsurprised at the historic hire.

Bruce Riley was proudly watching the news unfold from a few hundred miles away. As Berry’s football coach and guidance counselor at Bel Air High School in Maryland, he knew better than anyone exactly the type of young man to which the Browns were handing the reins.

“You can watch him as long as you want, but you're not going to see anything different,” Riley said. “I'm not putting Andrew on a pedestal by any stretch of the imagination, but I believe the Lord is going to do great things through him.”

When Riley Met Berry
Riley remembers the spring of 2001 well. Andrew and his twin brother, Adam, were skilled but undersized eighth grade athletes. Nonetheless, Andrew earned the first string quarterback spot for the JV team for ninthOn4JUncg grade, and both Berry boys played on the varsity squad the next three years—Andrew, again, as the starting quarterback.

“Andrew and Adam quickly established themselves as strong leaders,” Riley recalled. “Their faith allowed them to stand up for what was right and be guiding lights. Adam and Andrew were pillars of the faith and stood firm.”

Steve Medinger, Northern Maryland Area Director and new to FCA staff at the time, was astonished when he walked into an FCA meeting at Bel Air.

“Andrew and Adam were sharing a tough lesson with their peers about purity,” Medinger said. “Here are these two athletes that are really successful in the athletic world standing up in front of their peers and sharing their faith. That was one of the most confirming things to me—to know I was exactly where God had called me to be.”

It also confirmed Medinger's belief that Andrew's and Adam’s boldness and confidence was a direct reflection of Riley’s and FCA's influence.

“That was probably one of the more impressionable times in my life,” Andrew concurred. "Having the FCA community was such a major part of my own personal growth and in my relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Divine Guidance
Long before the Berry twins arrived at Bel Air High School, Riley had been on his own journey of faith. He was raised in church but didn’t fully comprehend what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus Christ until he graduated from the University of Maryland.
In 1988, he was hired as a math teacher and assistant coach at Bel Air. Eventually he became the guidance counselor where his ability to influence students was broadened.

“That's something I feel very committed to,” Riley said. “A lot of people are nervous and leery about sharing their faith, but I try to work it into every conversation.”

Riley has two methods he uses to engage students about matters of faith. First of all, he has a Bible open on his desk. He finds that many students are drawn to that and it leads to questions like “Is that a Bible?” or “What do you believe?”

But many times, Riley will ask a question of his own: “Where does your hope and joy come from?”

“That's kind of like a baited hook for me because by and large kids can’t answer that question,” he explained. “That gives me the opportunity to open the conversation and tell them that my hope and joy comes from having a relationship with Jesus Christ and being saved by His blood.”

On The Fast Track
Adam and Andrew could have played top-tier Division I football, but the co-valedictorians had their sights set on the Ivy League. While Adam chose Princeton, Andrew went to Harvard and converted to cornerback where he thrived and became a three-time first team All-Ivy League selection and helped lead the team to a pair of conference championships.

"Some of the kids I coach really don't know what love is, and they have a cloudy vision of true love. I'm trying to show them what it's like to love somebody unconditionally."
-Bruce Riley
Remarkably, Andrew earned his bachelor’s in economics and a master’s in computer science in four years. A previous injury found during rookie camp in Washington ended his playing career, but a decision to turn down a Wall Street job turned out to be his ticket to the NFL. An unexpected scouting job offer with the Indianapolis Colts set Andrew on an unprecedented fast track.

Six years later, Andrew was hired to be the Vice President of Player Personnel for the Browns. He then took a job as Vice President of Operations with the Eagles. After just one year, he returned to the Browns.

“His story is just magnificent—to see how God’s providence was with him every step of the way,” Riley said. “It's just been a joy.”

Talking to Riley, you would think he had little or nothing to do with the Berry brothers' success: “Andrew and Adam have poured more into me than I poured into them,” he said. “I got more from my players than I gave to them."

Andrew quickly and adamantly disagrees: “I can assure you, that's not the case.”

Adam Berry, who graduated from Princeton and now works on Wall Street, said of Riley: "Coach Riley was one of the most impactful people in my faith. He helped me to become conscious of how important it is to carry oneself and treat people in a way that any platform you have becomes a positive reflection of Christ's impact."

Stepping AsideHZnzpNyY
Riley retired as a coach in 2006 but remained the FCA sponsor at Bel Air while working as a guidance counselor until 2019. From there, he took a counseling job at York County School of Technology in Pennsylvania, where he continues to mentor students. He also started coaching again at his high school alma mater in Edgewood, Maryland. 

In one year under Berry’s leadership, the Browns broke a 12-year losing season streak and made the AFC playoffs for the first time in 17 years. Riley is convinced that this is just the beginning—not because of Berry’s football acumen and professional composure, but because of something that runs much deeper.

“He still has that humility about himself,” Riley said. “If you walk into his office, he has an open Bible right on his desk. He still has that faith, deep down. And I truly believe he is stepping aside and he has turned over control to God and is saying, ‘Use me as You see fit.’”


Photos courtesy of Berry Family and Lisa Gerber/Studio G Photography