As he did for Maryland men’s lacrosse, Jared Bernhardt is dominating for Division II Ferris State football

Jared Bernhardt — the reigning winner of the Tewaaraton Award, college lacrosse’s version of the Heisman Trophy — has not meaningfully picked up his stick since Maryland fell to Virginia in the NCAA championship game on May 31.

But there is a good reason for Bernhardt’s lacrosse inactivity. The former attackman has switched to football and is leading Division II Ferris State, located in Big Rapids, Michigan, as its quarterback.


“I kind of still had that feeling that I was going to go back and do it,” said Bernhardt, who had joined the Bulldogs in summer 2020 but returned to the Terps after the football season was canceled by concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. “I took care of saying my goodbyes at Maryland, and then I had to start getting ready for this other part of my life.”

In his college football debut Sept. 2, Bernhardt accounted for seven total touchdowns and 338 yards in Ferris State’s 54-14 rout of Findlay in the season opener for both teams.


After rushing for 120 yards and four scores and passing for 218 yards and three touchdowns in the team’s triple-option offense, he was named National Offensive Player of the Week and the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week.

Bernhardt, 23, admitted that he did not expect that type of performance in his first competitive football game since fall 2016 when he played for Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, Florida.

“If I played, awesome. But if I didn’t play, I wasn’t going to be sad,” he said. “I’m just thankful to be on a team. Not many kids can say they played another sport for four or five years and then get an opportunity to play football, especially on a team like this, and get a chance to play after not even being here that long. So I definitely did not think that. I was just trying to focus on, if the team needed me out there, just helping them any way possible. If I wasn’t out there, I was going to root the guys on and try to see things from the sideline to help them.”

Bulldogs coach Tony Annese similarly acknowledged that he had planned to split reps between Bernhardt, sophomore Mylik Mitchell, junior Evan Cummins and freshman Jesse Rivera as they had done during training camp. But his plan changed after Bernhardt and the offense scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the game.

“On the third possession, I put in another quarterback, but as we got closer to the red zone, I rolled him back in there because he’s just so explosive near the goal line on quarterback run plays, and then he scored again,” Annese said, referring to Bernhardt’s 10-yard run that gave Ferris State a 20-7 advantage. “So it kind of went that way. I did play four quarterbacks, including three in the first half, but Jared by far had the most reps and handled himself just like a champion.”

Former Maryland lacrosse attackman Jared Bernhardt, picking up yards as the Ferris State quarterback against Findlay on Sept. 2, is playing football for the first time since his senior year of high school in 2016. He has 304 passing yards and 330 rushing yards to go with six touchdown runs in two victories this fall.

To ensure his success wasn’t a fluke, Bernhardt followed up his big debut by rushing for 210 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries as the No. 2 Bulldogs cruised to a 45-19 win over Ashland on Saturday. Through two games, Bernhardt has completed 20 of 24 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns with one interception while rushing for 330 yards and six touchdowns on 26 carries.

Bernhardt, who said he was slightly more nervous for his first football game in five years than the national championship lacrosse game on Memorial Day, said it has been a whirlwind trying to absorb the playbook since joining the team in early July for summer workouts.

“You’ve got to process a lot, make some quick decisions, there’s some footwork stuff,” he said. “So there are definitely a lot of similarities [to playing attack in lacrosse]. But it’s a totally different game, especially not having played. You’re learning so many different things. In lacrosse, I raised my IQ, and playing at Maryland helped me see things and understand things. Coming in here, I’m brand new to a lot of this stuff. So I’m trying to process it as fast as I can with the help of the coaches, teammates, and film.”


In some ways, according to Maryland lacrosse coach John Tillman, Bernhardt is uniquely equipped to play quarterback after setting Terps records in goals (202) and points (290) and single-season marks in goals (71) and points (99) as the program’s first two-time Tewaaraton Award finalist.

“If you look at his footwork, his quickness, his explosiveness, he’s got a high IQ, and he anticipates situations very well,” Tillman said. “He’s a professional in terms of his approach, his dedication to studying film, his dedication to staying focused, his dedication to work extremely hard in every single rep at every single practice. He takes care of his body so well — from the way he sleeps to his hydration to his diet to what he’s doing in the training room before practice and also after practice to get ready. To me, he’s just a pro. He understands every aspect of how he can maybe get an edge or perform at a higher level. He’s just really dialed-in in doing all of those things.”

Annese, who caught a glimpse of Bernhardt’s commitment to football when the latter texted him about potential plays on a bus ride back from Penn State on Feb. 26 when he had three goals and four assists to become the sixth player in Maryland history to reach the 200-point milestone, said Bernhardt continues to scold himself for tossing an interception in the third quarter of the season-opening romp.

“I said to him, ‘Are you having fun?’ And he was like, ‘Well, that interception I threw wasn’t much fun,’” Annese said with a chuckle. “With everything, he is such a perfectionist. He is so focused that you kind of wonder how much fun he’s really having because he wants to win so badly and be the best.”

Football has been a family passion for Bernhardt. Older brothers Jake and Jesse starred in football in high school, and their late father Jim played football and lacrosse at Hofstra and was an assistant coach for the Houston Texans before his death in June 2019.

Bernhardt said he thinks his father would have been thrilled to see his son’s outing.


“Whether that game happened that way or not, just being in this new environment and having this opportunity, I think he would be proud that I’m doing this and getting this opportunity and trying to make the most of it,” he said before adding, “Maybe there would be some corrections along the way.”

Annese said Bernhardt’s tenacity and talent reminds him of those exhibited by former Bulldogs and current NFL players Zach Sieler (former Ravens and current Miami Dolphins defensive end) and Tavierre Thomas (Houston Texans cornerback).

“It’s truly a one percentile thing,” Annese said. “The guys that we have in the NFL right now are one percentile guys, and Jared kind of fits that mold, just being beyond what normal coaches see in terms of being so committed and determined to be the best.”

Bernhardt, who wears No. 12 just as he did in high school, said he is open to trying out for the NFL or going to the Premier Lacrosse League where Jake (Whipsnakes short-stick defensive midfielder) and Jesse (Chrome defenseman) play. But his top priority is helping his teammates win their next game.

“I anticipate us just trying to get a win and execute the game plan,” he said. “That’s all I’m really thinking about. I just want us to come out with a win, and I’ll be good with that.”