When it comes to the ever-changing coaching carousel in college football, Crystal Lake South graduate and Vanderbilt left guard Jake Bernstein watched this offseason as coach James Franklin bolted for Penn State.
Bernstein, a redshirt junior, faced the uncertainty that comes with the territory of not knowing who would make up the next coaching staff. All he could do was watch patiently.
“As it happened, I handled it better than I would have my freshman year,” Bernstein said. “I’ve seen it happen at others schools and I’ve aged a little bit. I was a little more comfortable with the transition.”
Now with a new coaching staff, Bernstein is spending his days preparing for the upcoming season. With the changes, Bernstein’s coaches have a new goal for the 21-year-old – be flexible.
While Bernstein already has an attitude of being flexible, Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason and offensive line coach Kevin Lightner want Bernstein to be more flexible, physically.
“We have a responsibility for getting ourselves better,” Bernstein said. “They noticed that I lacked flexibility. I was playing too high when getting off the ball. That was a big emphasis this year. I have the power to move a bunch of guys, but some of the run blocking one-on-ones and working in passing situations, I’ve worked on.”
Since graduating Crystal Lake South, Bernstein has started 18 games at left guard for the Commodores. It’s been a long journey for the 6-foot-4 guard, who spent time at fullback and was redshirted his freshman year.
Bernstein got his chance for increased playing time during his second year at Vanderbilt. Bernstein first saw significant minutes against Northwestern, but it was when he played against Auburn that he felt his hard work was paying off.
“It was nice because I was finally able to get exposure where I actually was at my position,” Bernstein said. “In the Auburn game, it was nice being with guys who I had been playing with all along.
“It’s been fun, playing in stadiums and going against No. 1 draft picks,” he added.
Bernstein also has enjoyed success, as Vanderbilt finished 9-4 in each of his two playing seasons with two bowl wins. Bernstein, however, said he’s expecting great things out of this year.
“To go 10-2 or make the SEC championship, I think we can do that,” Bernstein said. “We have the caliber of guys and coaches. I think it will be a fun season next year, and I’m looking forward to it.”
For Bernstein, next season also will be a chance to play against one of his former teammates. Fahn Cooper, who graduated South the same year as Bernstein, joined the Ole Miss Rebels, and the two teams clash in Week 2.
“I always check in on the program to see what direction it’s headed in,” Bernstein said. “[Crystal Lake South] Coach [Chuck] Ashman has always been a great friend of mine. We’ll always have a great relationship until the end.”