All three Bernhardt brothers competed in the Team USA Fall Classic at US Lacrosse headquarters in 2017.

Bernhardt Brothers Continue to Follow Passion After Father's Passing

Jesse and Jake Bernhardt are the sons of a coach — and a good one at that. Jim Bernhardt drilled in his three sons (including the youngest, Jared) the work ethic it would take to be successful.

Whatever they chose to play, the Bernhardt brothers were destined to have a career in sports. All thanks to a father that was tough when he needed to be, but compassionate just the same.

 “He just had a great perspective on things,” Jake said. “Whether it was lacrosse or football, he was a coach first.”

Jim Bernhardt passed away this June after a battle with lymphoma. The Bernhardt brothers lost their biggest inspiration — their father — and the greater sports community lost Coach Bernhardt.

But he lives on through his family. Jake and Jesse, both coaches, find themselves quoting their father quite often.

“You’ve never been in my shoes, but I’ve been in yours.”

“It all comes out in the wash.”

“Because of what happened, it doesn’t mean we’re changing what we do. It’s even more of a confirmation that what you’re doing is right.” - Jesse Bernhardt

Most of the time it comes out of the blue. It’s a testament to the lessons that Jim Bernhardt instilled in his sons.

“Those ‘Dadisms’ that he would always say, I find myself repeating to my fiancee, or Jared, or my players,” Jesse said. “Those are things that I’ll carry with me and remember when I catch myself. I’m proud to be able to say that.”

Just months after losing their father, all three brothers are living out the life that he envisioned for them. For Jesse and Jake, it’s playing professionally in Major League Lacrosse and the Premier Lacrosse League, respectively. For Jared, it’s another shot at a national title with Maryland, with a fifth year in college football to come.

Life will be different, but the vision and goals won’t change. This summer has been a test, but the Bernhardt brothers will carry their father’s legacy with them as they progress through their lacrosse careers.

“What he would have wanted us to do is continue to coach, continue to play as long as we could or wanted to,” Jake said. “We knew from a young age that that’s what he wanted to do.”

“Because of what happened, it doesn’t mean we’re changing what we did,” Jesse said. “It’s probably more of reconfirming that we should keep doing what we have been doing. What we are we doing is pretty much everything we learned from him and my mom. It’s even more of a confirmation that what you’re doing is right.”

Since leaving Maryland after the 2013 season, where they were roommates, the Bernhardts have settled into the reality of professional lacrosse. No longer teammates, they played against each other in MLL before reuniting with Team USA in 2018, helping the U.S. win a world championship in Israel.

“For any brothers who have pretty much played in the same team for the majority of lives growing up, that was the biggest change,” Jesse said of lining up against his brother. "That was the most unique experience we’ve encountered.”

During those six seasons, Jake and Jesse stayed in contact with one another, and made sure to check in with the family back home in Florida, including their mother, Catherine. With their father working as an assistant with the Houston Texans and brother, Jared, playing youth football and lacrosse, life was busy for the entire family. Still, they remained close through it all.

But the past year has been one of constant change for Jesse, Jake and the rest of the family, who received Jim’s diagnosis in the fall of 2018. His battle started then, while Jake served as an assistant on the staff at Vermont, and Jesse (as an assistant) and Jared (as a player) were preparing for Maryland’s 2019 season.

The situation was difficult for everyone involved, but the Bernhardt family did the best to be present as often as possible.

“It was a long process,” Jake said. “Whenever you hear that C-word, cancer, you automatically expect the worst. It hits you pretty hard. You’re not sure what to expect, and you go from there. Being away from my parents, then having to do everything they could to beat it, it was pretty tough.”

Between games and practices, Jesse and Jake would fly back to Florida to be with their father. That process continued through the college season and into the pro summer.

Every time they’d visit their father, he wasn’t interested in talking about his condition. His focus was on seeing his children succeed.

“He was a tough dude,” Jesse said. “He would always defer from what was going on with him. You’d ask him how he was doing, and he’d tell us, but he’d quickly change the conversation to what was going on with us. As much as there were times where we wanted to be there visiting him, he would always defer to, ‘Go play in your game,’ or, ‘You should go, don’t sit here.’ That’s how he was my whole life.”


Jim Bernhardt helped coached his sons in both football and lacrosse while they were growing up.

“Not that he didn’t want us there, but he didn’t want us to stop doing what he loved doing,” Jake said. “He didn’t want what he was going through to fall on us. He was adamant about us going to get to a game or practice. That’s just who he was, and he didn’t want us to worry about him. He wanted us to live our lives, with all three of us pretty committed to what we do.”

And they listened to his advice. Once their college seasons were over, Jesse and Jake joined their respective leagues. The only difference was that this year, they wouldn’t be facing off twice during the season.

Jesse has remained with MLL’s Chesapeake Bayhawks, the franchise that drafted him. Jake decided to take the plunge into the newly established PLL, where he stars for the championship-bound Whipsnakes.

In between games and practices, Jesse and Jake take the time to watch each other’s games. 

But it wasn’t long into the season that Jim Bernhardt lost his battle with lymphoma. He passed away June 21 with his family by his side.

As tough as it was for the Bernhardts to lose their father, the lacrosse family stepped up in support. Throughout the community, messages of support were sent their way. At the funeral services were members of the Whipsnakes, the Bayhawks, Vermont men’s lacrosse, Maryland men’s lacrosse and plenty more.

Each person shared a different story of how their father impacted their lives. Many couldn’t ignore the aspects of Jim Bernhardt that existed in Jesse and Jake.

“People tell me that I look exactly like him,” Jake said. “I would get caught off guard. I’d see pictures and whatnot, but people would say I was just like him. Through this whole process, I would hear people tell stories about my dad and it was like I was listening to myself, the way he was committed to his work. And that’s why he was so adamant prior to his passing that we live our lives, because he had been so committed to coaching and doing it at a high level that maybe he somehow put the blinders on certain things.”

When the Bernhardts returned to their locker rooms, teammates offered the same amount of support. For two brothers that grew up in locker rooms, it provided comfort to return to that environment.

“For my teammates, it’s not easy either just because, ‘How do you approach that guy? How do you talk to him? How’s he going to be out there?’” Jesse said. “It’s not easy, and people are very delicate asking about it. Now I just use it as an opportunity to talk about my dad, and I could talk about him for a long time. It’s a good way to reflect and remember him.”

With their father still fresh in mind, the Bernhardt brothers are both chasing professional lacrosse championships. Jake and the Whipsnakes have advanced to the PLL title game Sept. 21, while Jesse and the Bayhawks are headed for the MLL playoffs.

At the same time, Jared is preparing for his senior season at Maryland — recently taking the steps to start his recruitment for a fifth year in college football, a sport where his father made a living. Jared and his father had been planning his fifth-year football experience up until his passing this summer. Jesse and Jake have pledged to help Jared in his recruitment process.

All three brothers are living out the lives that their father would have wished for them. Sports, specifically lacrosse, have become second nature for Jake, Jesse and Jared.  

And they’ll continue to pursue their passion, fully focused, for as long as they can. In doing so, they’ll make their father proud, which is what they’ve always tried to do. 

“Everything he told us has worked,” Jesse said.