Bernhardt’s Football Mentality in a Lacrosse World
by Laurel Pfahler
Jared Bernhardt recalls his dad advising him and his brothers to play lacrosse with a football mindset. The U.S. U19 midfielder says doing so has a lot to do with his success on the lacrosse field.
An all-state quarterback at Lake Brantley (Fla.) High School, Bernhardt brings his skills running the Patriots’ triple option attack to the way he carries himself with a stick — explosive, athletic, elusive.
In the same smooth rhythm he pitched a football to the running back at his side or found a receiver down field, he has a knack for finding the open man in lacrosse, too, whenever he’s not finding the back of the net himself.
As a four-year starter at Lake Brantley, he tallied 429 career points on 232 goals and 197 assists.
Bernhardt hopes to make a similar impact this summer as Team USA tries for its eighth consecutive gold medal at the Federation of International Lacrosse U19 World Championship, July 7-16, in British Columbia.
“I definitely think football has an impact on the way I play in lacrosse,” Bernhardt said. “My dad always said, ‘Have a football mentality in a lacrosse world,’ and me and my brothers took that over. It’s definitely helped us throughout our years playing.”
Bernhardt began playing football before lacrosse was available to him around second grade, but his background is steeped in both sports.
His father, Jim, played football and lacrosse at Hofstra, and now serves as the Houston Texans’ director of football research.
His brothers, 26-year-old Jake, and 25-year-old Jesse, were successful two-sport athletes at Lake Brantley before playing lacrosse at Maryland and then professionally for Major League Lacrosse’s Ohio Machine and Chesapeake Bayhawks, respectively. Jesse Bernhardt competed for the U.S. senior team in 2014.
Maryland nabbed its third Bernhardt before Jared entered his sophomore year. He was widely considered a top-five recruit from the class of 2016.
However, his first love almost dragged him in a different direction as the early signing period approached in November.
Last spring, following successful junior seasons in both his sports, college football coaches began showing more interest, and Navy, in particular, became a viable option.
“All three of them always had a love, affinity or connection to football, but frankly, the lacrosse opportunities presented themselves, partly because of how early the recruiting process goes in lacrosse,” Jim Bernhardt said. “Jared hadn’t hit his growth spurt or finished filling out, so the football prospects hadn’t let themselves out yet.”
Bernhardt found himself in a tug-of-war between opportunities to play college football and lacrosse, but ultimately decided to stick with his commitment to Maryland.
“It wasn’t easy,” Bernhardt said about the decision. “I’ve been playing football since Pop Warner and lacrosse came after that. It was pretty difficult. I wasn’t really looking to play college football. I didn’t think it would come around, so I had to step back and look at my options. I just wanted to make sure I was making the right decision.”
Surprisingly, Bernhardt said the family pipeline to Maryland had little impact on his decision.
He definitely had more familiarity with the program because of the amount of time he had spent around it as a youth visiting his brothers; however, Bernhardt never felt obligated to follow in his brothers’ footsteps.
Jim Bernhardt said if the right opportunity for football had presented itself, he’s not sure Jared wouldn’t have changed his commitment. As a father, he just wanted to make sure Jared considered the demands of Division I football and a service academy, both of which Jared could handle but might not have enjoyed so much.
“It wouldn’t have been that big of a lifestyle change because he lives a relatively Spartan lifestyle now,” Jim Bernhardt said. “He has friends, but he’s not a big party guy. He gets home at a relatively decent hour and always checks in when he is out late. He gets his schoolwork done on his own – he’s a self-starter. I don’t recall a time we ever had to remind him to buckle down. He’s a 3.9 student, so between that and whether it’s working out or going to field to shoot, he’s pretty disciplined that way. He’s a lot better kid than I was his age.”
Bernhardt inked his letter of intent Nov. 11, then two days later led Lake Brantley’s undefeated football team to a playoff win over Jacksonville-Sandalwood before jetting off to Ohio State that weekend to train with Team USA.
The youngest Bernhardt said being with the U19 team is a “tremendous experience.”
After spending the bulk of his career in still-emerging Florida, the most competitive lacrosse he could compare it to was playing with his brothers and learning from his dad.
He never considered himself any less of a player coming from a non-traditional lacrosse region, but has enjoyed the challenges of competing against the best high school seniors and college freshmen in the nation.
“He’s had a target on his back since he stepped into high school, but he’s put in a lot of work that’s unseen,” said eldest brother Jake Bernhardt, who was Jared’s high school coach the last two years.
“People think it’s automatically inherited or passed on to him because he has two older brothers that play, but I couldn’t have asked him to do anything more than he did.”
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