MADISON, Ala. - You've heard it before. Good things come to those who wait. But the road to get there was paved with pain for Alabama punter Mike Bernier. Mike’s love for his mother has always been bigger than the game of football.
Sonja Bernier beat breast cancer in 2004. 10 years later, the cancer was back, this time in her bones. Both of her children came home to help her fight. “I came home May of 2016 and then two months later, mom went into the hospital for three months,” Catherine Bernier told me.
The battle would last three and a half years. "I just felt like I would regret it if I didn't come home as she was going through this,” Mike Bernier told us in an earlier interview. “And me not being able to see her as much as I could have."
Mike walked away from a scholarship at Eastern Illinois in 2016. Sonja’s cancer was back but she told her son then, “He didn't have to worry because they were going to treat me." He still came home and took a leap of faith. Several schools contacted him, including Alabama.
Mike Bernier Sr. recalls, “They want him to come down for a visit, so we went down there and a couple of weeks, they offered him a preferred walk on. Hallelujah!” It was an unexpected blessing. “Oh, my goodness, she was so proud of him,” he said about his wife.
Sonja got to see her son punt in two spring "A" day scrimmage games. But she never got to see him in the Tide's starting lineup. “No, never saw him start but she's seeing him now. Big time. She's got the big picture,” Mike’s dad said. And she has a great seat. “The best seat in the house,” he said. “The best seat.”
Sonja Bernier lost her battle with cancer August 15. “We never gave up hope, ever. But it is what it is,” Mike’s dad said. It’s life. “Sometimes it ain't pretty but it's life,” he added. The game of life continues.
Two months after his mom passed, Mike’s number came up for the Tennessee game in Knoxville. “Yeah, I got a phone call from Mike,” his dad recalls. “It was Wednesday. He says dad, I'm starting on Saturday. I said, no way Mike. He says yeah, I'm going to start and we're flying up Friday. I said wow. I'm driving up.”
Mike punted twice, each time for 41 yards. His teammates congratulated him. So did coach Nick Saban when he got to the sideline. “Yep. That doesn't happen too often. Yeah, he was enthused about that. They were all loving it. They just loved it,” Mike’s dad said with a smile.
The Crimson Tide rolled in that one 58-21. Late in the fourth quarter, Mike spotted his father in the stands. “He was looking at me and the two friends I was with,” his dad said. And he also looked up toward heaven and pointed skyward. “That was a signal. Yep. That was it,” his dad said.
When number 98 got back to Tuscaloosa, he called his dad who remembers, “He was crying. He said Dad, I said you doing okay Mike? He said yeah, I'm doing great dad. I said what are you crying about? He says I just knew mom was with me, the whole time she was there when I was out there on the field. He knew it the whole time.” Mike Bernier knew in his heart; his mom was watching over him. “She’s his guardian angel, and hers” he said looking over at his daughter Catherine.
When we sat down with Mike’s dad and sister, we also found out she attended Auburn for two years. But Catherine says when they go to the Iron Bowl this year, she’ll be cheering for her little brother Mike. She’s already been to two games this year and says the only way she could wear crimson, Mike bought her an Alabama football jersey with his number and name on the back.