Mike Bernier Sees First Action For Alabama Crimson Tide
KNOXVILLE, TENN.- Under cloudy skies and a west wind of 10-mph, Mike Bernier, Jr. was on the stage he wanted since a small boy growing up in Madison. Before 97,000 screaming fans at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. and millions more watching on national television, the redshirt junior for the Alabama Crimson Tide football team took his first snap as starting punter.
What is typically an individual skilled-play, Bernier strolled onto the turf like he has hundreds of times since becoming a punter in sixth grade. Only this time, he was not alone.
On Aug. 15, Bernier’s mother, Sonja, died after a four-year battle with breast cancer-her second fight against the disease being first diagnosed 14 years ago. Bernier signed with Eastern Illinois in 2015 and played one season for the Panthers before returning home to be with his family and for his mother suffering from stage IV of the disease.
“Our family discussed the situation and I knew I needed to return home as it was the right time to do so,” said Bernier after the game against Tennessee. “I attended Calhoun College for one semester as I contacted several schools such as Sanford, Jacksonville State and others about punting for them. I received a call from Alabama assistant coach Bobby Williams as he found out I was looking for a place to go.”
In the spring of 2016 he attended Alabama’s A-Day Game and he was offered a walk-on spot in the program that day. He entered classes that summer and joined the team after earning a Hardship Waiver by the NC-Double-A allowing his transfer. He had to sit out one season, but got that one year back and is now listed as a redshirt junior.
During his sophomore season a year ago he watched as All-American punter J.K. Scott led the special teams for the Crimson Tide. Bernier bided his time learning from Scott and using the kicking competition as a slingshot to where he is now.
“The waiting my turn helped me and the competition was the best you could have,” added Bernier. “I did not play last season, but was on the team roster traveling to all post-season games. I received my National Championship ring and excited to see what the future will be for our team and myself. I am grateful for this opportunity.”
This season, Bernier watched as freshman punter Skyler DeLong was listed as the starter. DeLong has struggled during the first half of the season opening the door for Bernier to showcase his talents on the national stage.
“I found out Thursday before the game as I was listed No. 1 on the depth chart after taking lots of reps with the first team in practice,” said Bernier. “Special teams coordinator Jeff Banks broke the news to me.”
His father, Mike Sr., was on hand for the game and they spoke during pre-game. “I gave him a hug and he told me to do my best,” said the younger Bernier, who himself was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes when he was 13 years old.
On the Tide’s fifth possession coming in the second quarter of the game against the Vols, Bernier made his way onto the field to take his first snap in a game since 2015. He had spiritually spoke with his mother prior to the game and just before taking the field he again asked his mother to be with him.
“I wear a necklace with a bird on it as that was my nickname for my mother,” said Bernier. “I asked my mother to help me. She definitely gave it to me.”
Bernier’s first kick was near perfect going 41 yards where the Vols had a fair catch. But Bernier had no idea how well his kick traveled. His cleat got caught on a player’s jersey causing the No. 98 wearing punter to hit the deck. “I didn’t get to see the punt and as I went to the sideline I saw others looked happy, so I figured it was.”
Later in the game, Bernier hit another 41-yard punt. His long hours of perfecting his technique were finally displayed in a venue he had always dreamed about.
Bernier began kicking at a young age and was a NFL Punt, Pass and Kick champion four consecutive years beginning in the sixth grade. As an eighth grader he won the Atlanta Falcons Team Competition and was ranked fifth nationally. The multi-sport athlete was also an award winning basketball player at Liberty Middle School and the starting quarterback for the Lions in football. He made his way to Bob Jones where he played baseball and football and as a sophomore began punting for the Patriots after head coach Kevin Rose heard of Bernier’s PP&K results. He soon became the starter for the Pats and later earned an athletic scholarship.
“I miss my teammates and the coaching staff at Eastern Illinois as I would have stayed there if things were different,” added Bernier.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban spoke of Bernier’s success against Tennessee in his post-game press conference. Saban said, “You like to see guys who are willing to stick with the process doing the things they need to do to be successful and make the choices and decisions they need to make to continue to improve and get better, compete and not give in and give up when they don’t get immediate self-gratification for what they’re doing. He’s certainly done that. I was happy to see him in the few opportunities he had do a good job today.”
“I’ve waited for this moment,” said Bernier.
No matter what his future, Bernier will always have his father and his older sister, Catherine, with him in support of his life’s endeavors. He will also never be alone spiritually as his “Bird” will always be at his side.