Football and lacrosse were embedded in Bernhardt’s DNA. It became second nature for him as his father Jim, who passed away in 2019, coached both college and professional football for more than a decade and his brothers being All-Pro lacrosse players, that later transitioned into coaches after their careers were over. His mother played a pivotal role in his growth as a player, giving him critical feedback to help sharpen his game, which is something he’s prided himself on as an athlete growing up.
“They encourage but they will definitely, including my mom say, ‘block better here or you could do this better’,” Bernhardt said. “Always in anything growing up, it was always that and you know, I looked up to them so they’re always trying to critique me and help me out.”
After his father had passed away, Bernhardt leveraged his one year of eligibility from the NCAA’s “five to play four rule” and decided to play football at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich. This proved to be a watershed moment for him. In his lone year at Ferris State, he was named starting quarterback, threw for 1,322 yards, and rushed for more than 1,400 yards. He capped off a successful season by winning the NCAA Division II national championship, earning GLIAC Player of the Year.
After transferring to Ferris State, Bernhardt competed as a wide receiver, a position he’s never played before, in Maryland’s pro-day which would put him on the radar in front of NFL scouts. Ultimately, he would go undrafted; however, Smith and the Falcons took a risk and signed him as an undrafted free agent.
“You look at the background, you look at the pedigree, you look at all these different things and then you take a chance on him,” said wide receivers coach T.J. Yates. “And then you throw him in OTAs and he’s doing okay, and as soon as we got to training camp, he just took off.”
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