As pandemonium ensued inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Alabama fans and confetti descended in jubilation, every media outlet with an agenda was looking for Jalen Hurts.
Upon pressing through a crowd that consisted of coaches, players, media personnel, equipment managers and cheerleaders, Stephen Smith of Touchdown Alabama Magazine found all four specialists for the Crimson Tide – Joseph Bulovas, Thomas Fletcher, Scott Meyer and Mike Bernier – hugging and crying.
For Bernier, the walk-on punter fixed eyes on a championship newspaper for a few moments and then looked toward heaven in utter respect for his mother. If she could speak, her first sentence would be a mixture of her being proud while at the same time confirming to Bernier that as much as he loved her; he never gave up on himself.
The senior from Madison, Ala., quietly turned in two of his best performances this season, showing both Auburn and Georgia the kind of weapon he is. After averaging 41 yards per attempt in the Iron Bowl, Bernier averaged 40.2 yards a boot on five punts in Atlanta.
His longest attempt traveled 46 yards in Alabama’s 35-28 win and he rendered Bulldogs’ receiver Mecole Hardman, who Nick Saban called the “most dangerous return man he has seen in the Southeastern Conference,” to just 16 yards on two returns.
It was Bernier’s efforts in the second half that not only limited Hardman, but it also generated energy for the Tide’s defense.
Despite being lights out for the majority of the game, Alabama was able to affect Jake Fromm late in the second half to give its offense a chance. A joyous feeling takes over upon seeing scholarship athletes make plays; however, it is more electrifying when a walk-on emerges.
“Mike is a game changer,” Alabama long snapper, Thomas Fletcher said of Bernier after the matchup. “He came in for us halfway through the season when we had little bit of a struggle in the operation of punting, but Mike came in and has been seamless in his transition. He made a huge impact on the game tonight and you can’t win without a good punter. Mike is a good one.”
As the conversation continued with Fletcher, his eyes lit up more about Bernier and the work he puts in to wanting to be great.
“There is a drive inside of him and he wants to be really good at what he does,” Fletcher continued on Bernier. “Punting is his thing and he genuinely shows that he wants to be the best at it.”
From walk-on to SEC champion, Bernier had been solid for the Tide.
With the program now facing Oklahoma in the semifinal round of College Football Playoff, he will have some time to rest and prepare himself to duplicate his showing from over the weekend.
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