Jared Bernhardt is the youngest of three brothers, and the youngest by seven years, which meant that pickup games in the family's Longwood, Fla., neighborhood usually ended one of two ways: with Jared playing backyard hoops or two-hand-touch football against kids twice his size, or with him insisting that he absolutely could as they ran by without him.
"It was pretty persistent," said Jesse, 27, the middle brother. "I don't think there was ever a time where he was going to accept that he couldn't kind of fit in or he couldn't always do it."
Their mother used to always joke that Jared was going to be the "biggest and best one," but that was a high bar to clear. Jake, 28, was a men's lacrosse team captain at Maryland and a Major League Lacrosse draft pick, and Jesse a two-time All-American with the Terps and a No. 4 overall selection. Now, Catherine Bernhardt's notion, even Jesse acknowledges, doesn't seem so far-fetched.
After earning All-America honorable mention as a freshman midfielder at Maryland, Jared and the defending national champion Terps will face his brothers and the U.S. men's national team Saturday at Tierney Field in Sparks. It's the first time the trio will be on the same field in a competitive game. It's the first time Jesse, a defenseman and Maryland's new defensive coordinator, has to worry a little about getting bested by his baby brother.
"In high school, I could still bull him around a little bit, but now that he's physically matured and he's kind of come into his own, I've got to get ready," he said. "I have to be ready for him when we're playing."
The problem for the longest time, Jared said, was that he was just "so young." He didn't see why he couldn't beat his brothers in whatever they were playing — and also why they might not want him to be wherever they were. (Mom and Dad had a hand in promoting fraternal cooperation, Jesse said.)
But being the son of a longtime coach, Jim Bernhardt, and the brother of two-sport high school stars, Jared naturally had what Terps coach John Tillman called "a very good athletic IQ." In those friendly neighborhood games of street football, he was good enough to get picked to a team. Their ad hoc fields were as wide as the streets they played on, tight quarters that rewarded Jared's elusiveness and savvy.
When he couldn't play, he watched. Years before Jared became one of the nation's top recruits, he came to Maryland lacrosse camps to learn from Tillman and to team practices to watch his brothers play.
"If he wasn't competing with them, he was dragged around watching them, and he picked up a lot from them," Tillman said. "The way they competed, he watched what they did and I think he saw how hard they worked and how successful they were, and I think you have two great role models to kind of show him the way."
Said Jared: "Definitely, definitely wanted to follow in their footsteps."
It will be a real family reunion Saturday. Catherine and Jim Bernhardt are flying in to watch the game, part of this weekend's Team USA Fall Classic, and Jesse mused that this might be the first and last time the Bernhardts are ever on the same field together for a game that matters.
Which only raises the stakes, of course. Jared said he wouldn't let the possibility of taking on Jake, a midfielder, or Jesse "get in the way" of the Terps' game plan. Tillman said he expects Jared to be confident and aggressive against another Bernhardt, "just like anybody else that he's playing against."
But if he does score?
Jake: "I probably won't say too much at the moment. Maybe something after, but I probably won't end up saying anything. Just let it be silent."
Jared: "I'm sure at some point, I'll hear it. It might not be too vocal or too loud for anybody else to hear it, or he may save it when we're more in a family setting."
Tillman: "All they would have to do is just look at each other, and they would know. When you have brothers, you don't really need to say anything. You just give them that look."
And Tillman would know. "I have two older brothers myself."
Team USA Fall Classic
What: Maryland vs. Team USA (6 p.m. Saturday), 9/11 Memorial Game (11:15 a.m. Sunday), Towson vs. Team USA (2 p.m. Sunday), Towson vs. Israel (4 p.m. Sunday)
Site: Tierney Field, Sparks
Tickets: $10 each day, shop.uslacrosse.org
What's at stake: The weekend's games are the next step in the 49-player U.S. training team's preparation for the 2018 Federation of International Lacrosse Men's World Championship. Ultimately, 23 players and coach John Danowski will represent the country in Israel next summer.
The American roster features some of the biggest names in Major League Lacrosse, including Paul Rabil (Johns Hopkins), Joe Fletcher (Loyola Maryland), Rob Panell and Tom Schreiber, as well as college stars like Denver's Trevor Baptiste and Yale's Ben Reeves.
Maryland's Connor Kelly, also on the U.S. training team, will play for the defending NCAA champion Terps on Saturday and against 2017 semifinalist Towson on Sunday.