When Jared Bernhardt, a senior on the Maryland men’s lacrosse team, began searching last fall for an NCAA football program for which to play, Stony Brook expressed interest. However, the Long Island-based Football Championship Subdivision school wanted him to line up as a wide receiver.
“It’s a really good feeling,” he said Wednesday morning. “I haven’t played since high school, but it’s definitely exciting. I was trying to find a place and luckily, Coach Annese said he would give me an opportunity. So I’m definitely really excited to pursue that.”
Bernhardt said he was leaning toward Ferris State as early as January, but held off on announcing his decision until recently. He said he was not dissuaded by the school’s Division II affiliation.
“Everyone wants to play at the highest level, but I think some of the lower levels can be overlooked,” he said. “They’re very competitive as well, and I know about Ferris State’s culture. And from what I’ve been able to get from Coach Annese and knowing how tight-knit that group is, it’s very encouraging for me.”
Bernhardt will join a Bulldogs program that went 12-1 last season and captured the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title for the second consecutive year. They advanced to the NCAA tournament semifinals before falling, 28-14, to West Florida on Dec. 14.
The foundation of the Ferris State offense is the triple option, which Bernhardt ran at Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, Florida. As a senior in 2015, he rushed for 1,457 yards and 12 touchdowns and passed for 751 yards and six scores in 11 games, leading a Patriots offense that averaged 486 yards per game.
Annese said Bernhardt is a perfect fit for the unit’s schemes.
“I expect him to be great in a very short fashion,” Annese said. “From what I know of him, he’s a high character kid, he’s a competitor, he’s a winner, and when you’re all of those things, I’m anticipating an easy transition, and I anticipate him to be very good very quickly.”
Bernhardt, who will graduate from Maryland with a bachelor’s in criminal justice and will pursue a master’s in either criminal justice or physical education at Ferris State, said he has been training at Davis Training Systems in Orlando. He’s lifting heavier weight to add more muscle to his listed size of 6 feet, 1 inch and 195 pounds. He said he also has been consuming peanut butter, protein shakes and five meals per day.
“I’ve always been a big peanut butter person,” he said. “I like peanut butter a lot.”
Annese said Bernhardt will compete for the starting quarterback role with, among others, junior Evan Cummins, a transfer from Kent State and another transfer from a junior college. Bernhardt acknowledged that he might feel a little rusty on the football field.
“But getting familiar with everything, especially the people and the surroundings, I’m going to get more comfortable,” he vowed. “I’ve been through it many times before. So I know it’s going to be like that, and you have to get adjusted. So I’m not really too worried about that. In time, I will get more comfortable.”
Annese said he thinks Bernhardt’s level of fitness honed by his participation in lacrosse will erase any worries.
“He’s been playing lacrosse at a very high level and just from a movement-skill perspective, that’s a big part of what you need to do on the lacrosse field and the football field,” he said. “I’m going to basically assume that it’s going to be a pretty easy transition just based upon the little I’ve seen in the athleticism from playing there at Maryland in lacrosse. So I would be shocked if it wasn’t a simple transition for him.”
Bernhardt completed a coronavirus-shortened season this spring with 29 points on 20 goals and nine assists for the Terps (5-1). He was on pace for 43 goals in the regular season, which would have given him 154 for his career. That would be just one goal off Matt Rambo’s program record of 155.
Bernhardt — who in 2019 became only the third player in school history to score 50 goals in a season with 51 en route to being named a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, college lacrosse’s version of the Heisman Trophy — said he had considered using an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA for another run with the lacrosse team.
“There wasn’t anything bad that was pushing me away from Maryland or anything,” he said. “I can’t thank the coaching staff and everyone at Maryland enough for all they’ve done the past four years. I just kind of felt like I wanted to go and play football, and it was right there in front of me.”
The tradition of college lacrosse players who migrated to the NFL is highlighted by stars such as Jim Brown (Syracuse and the Cleveland Browns), Chris Hogan (Penn State and the New England Patriots), Will Yeatman (Maryland and the Houston Texans) and Tom Kennedy (Bryant and the Detroit Lions). That legacy, however, does not concern Bernhardt.
“I just want to play football and am looking forward to the opportunity to do it and help Coach Annese and Ferris State win in any way possible,” he said. “Everyone wants to play in the NFL, but my goal is to just be able to go there and help them in any way possible. I’m really not looking to go to the NFL. Everyone would love to do that, but I’m going to take it day by day and focus on the things that I can focus on right now.”
Since 2012, Ferris State has developed a tradition of producing quarterbacks who have led their NCAA Division II peers in rushing. Here is a list of the Bulldogs quarterbacks and how they fared among all position players.