TAMPA — In a college season rife with sacrifices — of social freedoms, summer preparation, even game-day pageantry — USF freshman Bryce Bernard made some pretty significant concessions of his own.
The dude literally lowered himself — even took a pay cut — to join the Bulls roster and fill a glaring void.
“Basically, I lost money out on it,” said Bernard, the unlikeliest roster addition of USF’s preseason. “That was the one downside, but it’s worth it.”
Call it a transition from minimum wage to maximum wonder. Less than two months ago, Bernard, a high school long snapper and center who arrived at USF with a 4.35 weighted GPA, was earning $8.56 an hour helping film Bulls practices from atop a hydraulic lift.
On Saturday, he handled all long-snapping duties — punts, field goals, extra points — in USF’s 28-7 loss at Cincinnati.
“I went the whole summer.. .just thinking, ‘Ah, I’m just going back to school to film and be a student,’” said Bernard, a second-year USF student who graduated from Neptune Beach’s Fletcher High.
“And then coach (Jeff Scott) was like, ‘Hey, we need you on the team.’”
The bizarre odyssey began in preseason camp, when sophomore Andrew Beardall — vying with incumbent Ian Deneen for the long-snapper job — tore his ACL. That left linebacker Antonio Grier as the emergency snapper behind Deneen. Scott had hoped to find at least one other snapper during spring walk-on tryouts, but the coronavirus crisis wiped out that opportunity.
“And school had already started, so you couldn’t go bring in guys from the (transfer) portal or whatever, so you’re kind of locked in,” Scott recalled. “Whenever we brought it up in staff meeting, Phil Cane — our director of video — said, ‘Hey, one of my student managers snapped in high school, and he was going to come out for walk-on tryouts, and I think he’s pretty good.’”
Bernard was learning to long snap before learning long division. His dad, former Edward Waters College coach Brad Bernard, was a left guard for two Division I-AA national title teams at Georgia Southern in the late 1980s, and trained Bernard and his older brother, Dylan, at the position.
He spent three full seasons as a long snapper and center at Fletcher, but harbored no serious thoughts of playing in college. When he chose to attend USF over Florida Atlantic, his high school athletic director — a longtime friend of Cane, also a Fletcher alumnus — helped set him up with the video job.
When Beardall went down, and Scott was informed of Bernard’s background, the first-year coach took a chance on him without ever having seen him snap.
“We actually got it approved through compliance that if he wanted to, and if we wanted him to, he could come snap at the beginning of practice like the snappers do, and then go up in his full pads and video the rest of practice, and still get paid to be a student video guy,” Scott said. “But we decided we could find another video guy.”
The Bulls' condensed preseason already had commenced when Bernard passed his physical and cleared all COVID-19 protocols. When Scott announced to the Bulls at the end of a practice that their new long snapper was filming them, he first pointed to the wrong videographer — on the wrong lift.
When he got it right, the players whooped and applauded.
“The whole team just gave a standing ovation, and he was waving like the pope down from the tower,” Scott said. “I was like, ‘You can’t make this stuff up.’”
Bernard made an appearance in the Bulls' 27-6 season-opening win against the Citadel, but was among those listed as “unavailable” for the Notre Dame game, when two Deneen snaps sailed over punters' heads in a 52-0 loss.
His five snaps last Saturday (three punts, field goal, PAT) were delivered without a hitch. So was irony.
For perhaps the first time in USF history, a guy descended from a tower to elevate his career.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Bernard said.
East Carolina (0-2, 0-1 American Athletic Conference) at USF (1-2, 0-1)
Raymond James Stadium, Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV/radio: ESPN+/ 95.3-FM or 1250-AM