The butterflies have calmed down for Mike Bernier. The emotions haven’t.
As Alabama prepares to finish off its College Football Playoff run on Monday, the Crimson Tide’s senior punter isn’t letting a single moment be taken for granted.
“A dream come true, really,” Bernier said. “Can’t ask for anything better than this.”
This is far from what he expected just a few years ago.
After graduating from Bob Jones High School in Madison, Alabama, Bernier moved 400 miles north to Charleston, Illinois. He received a scholarship to play football at Eastern Illinois, and he did exactly that in 2015.
Bernier started all 12 of the Panthers’ games as a true freshman. He averaged 37.7 yards per punt and earned an Ohio Valley Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honor.
Then, Bernier left.
“It’s really hard to give up free school, you know?” Bernier said. “… But the decision I made wasn’t hard at all. I was happy I did it, 100 percent.”
Because his mom was back home in Alabama dealing with stage four breast cancer that had metastasized to the bones.
“Of course my mom didn’t want me to (leave),” Bernier said. “She didn’t want me to think she needed me or something like that. I know my mom better than anybody. It was just pure excitement when I was home. No matter what the circumstances were, we were just happy to be back together.”
Bernier ultimately didn’t have to choose one love over another anyway.
On April 17, 2016, Bernier committed to play for the Crimson Tide as a preferred walk-on.
On Aug. 15, 2018, Sonja Bernier – his mother – passed away.
On Oct. 20, 2018, Mike Bernier punted for the first time in an Alabama jersey. He had two boots against Tennessee. Each went for 41 yards. Neither was returned.
The Crimson Tide destroyed the Volunteers, 58-21.
“Mike was really emotional,” Alabama special teams coordinator Jeff Banks said. “I think it was because of the way we won the game decisively but also the way he punted. And the players really got fired up for him when he was coming off the field after both those punts. It really cemented, I think, in his mind: ‘I made it. I finally made it. I accomplished my goal.’
“I think he wished his mom was there to see it, too.”
Bernier has been the Crimson Tide’s starting punter ever since.
“There wasn’t really a huge transition in him going from backup to starter,” UA long snapper Thomas Fletcher said. “As soon as he got in there, it was like he’d been doing it for three years and it was just the first time we got to watch him do it.”
Those first two shots at Tennessee sparked an additional 21 punts. Bernier’s 851 total yards breaks down into an average of 37 yards per kick. He has dropped four inside the 20-yard line and forced nine fair catches.
Bernier has one game left in him: the 2019 CFP National Championship at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
“I never thought I’d be punting for the No. 1 team in the nation,” Bernier said. “What kid does? But being out there, it really humbles you and makes you realize good things happen to good people.”
Reach Terrin Waack at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.