Former Lacrosse Star Adds Football Title to Superb Collegiate Career
By Liam Farrell
Lacrosse photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics
Football photo courtesy of Ferris State Athletics
When Jared Bernhardt ’21 graduated from Maryland, he had already finished a storied college lacrosse career as a 2017 national champion, the Terps’ record holder in career points and goals, and winner of the Tewaaraton Award, given to the most outstanding men’s and women’s NCAA players in the sport.
But he wasn’t finished. In one of the rarest achievements in recent college competition, Bernhardt added a second national title in a different team sport by using skills honed alongside his football coach father to help the Ferris State Bulldogs capture the 2021 NCAA Division II football crown.
“It was a way to honor Dad,” he says of Jim Bernhardt, who died in 2019 after a career with teams such as Penn State and the Houston Texans. “(He) would talk to us about having a football mentality when we played lacrosse—a sense of toughness, just playing hard, just all the things you can control and using that as an advantage.”
Bernhardt was one of the most sought-after lacrosse recruits in the country while starring at Lake Brantley High School outside of Orlando, Fla., but he also tallied more than 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns as a quarterback in his junior and senior years. He attracted some interest from Navy, which plays a similar triple-option offensive system, but ultimately he followed his brothers, Jake ’13 and Jesse ’13 (now a Terps assistant coach), to College Park.
Despite getting selected in the Spring 2021 Premier Lacrosse League draft, Bernhardt wanted to give football another shot. Until he succumbed to cancer, Jim had been helping Jared figure out how to do it, and his passing only solidified the commitment. He sent out emails and highlight tapes to schools around the country and agreed, sight unseen, to go to Ferris State in Big Rapids, Mich., as a graduate transfer.
Whatever rust there was came off quickly—on the way to a 14-0 record and 58-17 title win over Valdosta State, Bernhardt split time at quarterback and accounted for 2,776 yards and 37 touchdowns, winning Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
None of that was a surprise to UMD men’s lacrosse Coach John Tillman. From natural skill to positive daily habits and unwavering commitment, he says Bernhardt has a “long list” of traits that make him a superb performer.
“You can’t just be a good athlete. You can’t just be smart. You don’t get better unless you are driven,” Tillman says. “There are so many things that you look (at Bernhardt) and go, there’s another reason.”
Bernhardt spent the spring in Florida training for the NFL and had multiple conversations with Chris Hogan, a former Penn State lacrosse player who went on to become an NFL wide receiver and two-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots, about how best to turn his college achievements into a professional roster spot.
Following the NFL draft, Bernhardt signed a free agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons, not as a quarterback but as a wide receiver/kick returner.
“I’m really open to anything. Any team I’ve been on I want to go and win,” he says.
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