CHRISTIAN CAPLE

‘Fortunately, it went full circle’: Germie Bernard fits at UW, after all

Sep 13, 2023, 3:27 PM

UW Huskies Germie Bernard...

Germie Bernard of the UW Huskies runs with the ball against the Boise State on Sept. 2, 2023. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

SEATTLE — I called Rich Muraco a couple years back to ask him about two players who had just committed to the UW Huskies: a defensive tackle named Sir Mells, and an edge rusher named Anthony Jones. (UW recruitniks will know both players decommitted shortly thereafter, eventually wound up at Oregon and have since transferred.)

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Muraco, the coach at Liberty High in Henderson, Nev., told all about Mells’ physical progression, noting that young linemen often don’t gain their “man strength,” as he called it, until their junior or senior year.

It’s different for skill players, Muraco said, and the conversation pivoted to another UW recruit.

“Like with Germie, for example,” he said, “where as a freshman, he looked like a senior, and he played that way.”

Indeed, Germie Bernard never projected as a developmental prospect — not when he signed his national letter of intent with the Huskies in December 2021, not after UW released him from that letter so he could attend Michigan State, and certainly not when Bernard decided to transfer to Washington ahead of his sophomore season.

Even as the No. 4 option behind established starters Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk, Bernard already is emerging as a crucial piece of UW’s offense. He played 57 snaps against Boise State and Tulsa — 12th-most among UW offensive players, per Pro Football Focus — and caught five passes for 90 yards and a touchdown, carried twice for eight yards and had kickoff returns of 63 and 25 yards.

It’s a continuation of the versatility and run-after-catch ability that Bernard, listed at 6-1 and 203 pounds, displayed throughout the spring and preseason camp. Saturday, he’ll deploy those skills against his former school, as the Huskies visit Michigan State for their nonconference finale.

“Fortunately, it went full circle,” coach Kalen DeBoer said, “maybe like you’d even hoped originally.”

A four-star recruit, Bernard committed to Washington in July 2020, ahead of his junior year of high school, primarily for his relationship with receivers coach Junior Adams. Even as the Huskies sputtered through the 2021 season — and fired coach Jimmy Lake — Bernard maintained that he still intended to play at UW, so long as Adams remained on staff. He kept his word: DeBoer did retain Adams, and Bernard did sign as part of DeBoer’s first recruiting class. “Him seeing what we were going to do offensively got him even more motivated and excited to be a part of it,” DeBoer said at the time.

But the day Bernard landed in Seattle as a winter enrollee, he learned Adams was leaving for Oregon. Just as Odunze, McMillan and Polk had to decide whether they wanted to stay and play for Adams’ successor, Bernard suddenly had to decide whether he wanted to come to Washington at all. He told MLive.com that he enrolled and remained in Seattle for a few days, but didn’t attend classes to ensure he still could ask out of his letter.

Odunze, McMillan and Polk eventually chose to stay. Bernard, though, had a much shorter timeframe with which to make up his mind. Michigan State heavily pursued him toward the end of the early signing period, and Bernard’s relationship with MSU quarterback signee Katin Houser — a former teammate at Liberty, before Houser transferred to Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco — made the Spartans an intriguing option.

Ultimately, Bernard requested a release from his letter of intent. DeBoer granted it. Bernard enrolled at Michigan State soon after.

“It was just a really emotional time for Germie and his family,” said offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb. “He was a confused kid that had his mind made up for quite a while that he was going to be here at Washington, and then the narrative changes.”

Grubb said he was “wildly disappointed” to lose Bernard, because “I thought he was fantastic. I thought he was a really, really good get, both as a person and a player.”

But he’s glad DeBoer granted his release.

“He didn’t know us,” Grubb said. “We didn’t want to try to force him into a relationship. We wanted to let it happen.”

UW’s coaches, Bernard said in April, “were very welcoming, and they understood my decision. We still had that connection when I came back. For them to want me still, it was a big blessing to me, because I felt like coming back here was the right decision for me.”

The only decision, in fact. Bernard played in every game for the Spartans as a true freshman, and caught seven passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns in their first six games. But he was targeted only once in the second half of the season, and said he decided in the final weeks that he would transfer at season’s end.

To Washington, specifically.

“I knew where I wanted to go,” Bernard said this spring. “I didn’t want to deal with the recruiting process all over again.”

As Grubb put it: “There was a recognition later, probably, by Germ and his family, that ‘these guys are who they said they were.’”

He contacted UW’s coaches, who were thrilled at the opportunity to get him back on the roster. DeBoer knew what the Huskies were missing, and, like Grubb, recalls his disappointment at losing Bernard in December 2021.

“We can say it now, because he’s here and I love him and he’s just been such an amazing fit, but it was a tough one,” DeBoer said, “because he just fit everything about us. We knew what he was, talent wise, but even more so as a person, he and his family. … His film popped at me, because he’s got the ability to catch balls, but he’s also running as a quarterback or wildcat, doing things out of the backfield. You saw that translate to last Saturday, where we lined him up (at tailback).”

Bernard’s high-school career suggested he could contribute beyond running routes and catching passes, though he did plenty of that; he caught 53 passes for 956 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior, but also led the team with 452 yards rushing — at a clip of 12.2 yards per carry — and another 587 yards returning kickoffs and punts, including three punt-return touchdowns and another kick-return score.

Even as a sophomore, Bernard put up 948 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns, and dominated in other ways, too.

“If you watch his film as a sophomore against kids from (St. John) Bosco, going to big-time Division 1 football programs, he’s just manhandling them — like, pancaking kids in run blocking,” Muraco said. “I think that’s what kind of (separated) him from other high school receivers. You don’t usually see a sophomore in high school as physically mature as he is, that does everything right. If we tell him, ‘hey, you’ve got to block 70 percent of the time,’ he’s going to go out and give it his best effort and dominate in the run game.

“Best blocking receiver I’ve ever seen out of my program. And on top of that, there’s not many teams that could cover him one-on-one, whether it’s using his route-running to get open, or just his physical ability to box out somebody and go up and get a ball.

“He’s the total package as a receiver. And if he wanted to be a safety in college, he could be a safety. He can do it all.”

Odunze saw it in person as a senior at Las Vegas powerhouse Bishop Gorman. Bernard’s profile was rising as a playmaking sophomore, and he helped Liberty to a stunning upset of Bishop Gorman in the 2019 Desert Region title game, halting Gorman’s streak of 10 consecutive state championships.

Bernard caught five passes for 51 yards and a touchdown that night, and Liberty blew out its next two opponents to claim the state title for itself.

“He was Mossing kids, going over the top,” Odunze remembered. “He was playing defense at some point. He was doing everything for them.”

Assessing Bernard’s play this season, Odunze said: “He comes in with violent intentions, and that’s in his blocking game and his running game. Every time he catches the ball, he’s looking to make an explosive play.”

A 27-yard reception against Boise State required a broken tackle. Bernard also picked his way through blocks and tackle attempts on both of his big kickoff returns, and turned in a highlight block on a receiver screen to McMillan, also against Boise State, that nearly resulted in a touchdown.

Expect Grubb to continue finding ways to put the ball in Bernard’s hands, whether by air or by ground. Each of UW’s top three receivers have scored rushing touchdowns this season, and Bernard’s versatility suggests it might not be long until he joins that list.

He’s even strong enough between the tackles, Grubb said, that “if we wanted to make him a full-time running back, we can do that.”

Grubb also clarified: “I’m not interested in doing that.”

DeBoer visited Bernard and his family in December 2021, not long before signing day, and not long after the coach had left Fresno State for Washington. He remembers thinking at the time: “Hey, this is our future. This is a guy that’s coming into our program and can just do special things.”

Detour notwithstanding, he was right.

This article was originally published at OnMontlake.com, the new home for Christian Caple’s full UW Huskies football coverage. Subscribe to On Montlake for full access to in-depth UW coverage.

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