Off Tackle David Willis
---- — DERRY — If there were any lingering questions about whether Pinkerton senior lineman Jake Bernaiche received any breaks from his father, Astros line coach Dave Bernaiche, the crowd at the team’s victory over Brockton last month received a clear answer.
“Against Brockton I messed up a kickout block and he was screaming his head off at me on the sidelines,” said Jake. “I’ll tell you, I didn’t mess that rule up again!”
When the often boisterous Bernaiche men are together on the gridiron, voices are going to be raised. But they wouldn’t trade the occasional confrontation for anything in the world.
“There are some very awkward car rides home because I don’t hold anything back,” Dave said with a chuckle. “Sometimes he has to hear what he did wrong on the way home. A lot of times, I am harder on him than anyone.
“But people think because I am so gruff on the football field that I am always tough on him. But we are very, very close. Soon he will be off to college and the ties will have to be cut, which will be tough. So I am really glad I’ve been able to share this time with Jake on the football field.”
Tomorrow afternoon, the father and son will look to extend their player/coach relationship one more week, as their No. 2 Astros host No. 3 Nashua South in the New Hampshire Division 1 semifinals at 1 p.m. The winner earns a berth in next Saturday’s title game.
“He yells at me all the time,” said Jake, a quad-captain. “So that means he teats me like everyone else. But I have loved having my dad as a coach. I really appreciate him doing everything he has for me over the years.”
Like his son, Dave Bernaiche was a high school lineman, playing guard and linebacker at Trinity (class of 1981). He then had stints coaching at Manchester and Concord with five years as a referee thrown in.
So when his son became interested in playing football, Dave knew he wanted to coach him. After working with him in youth football, including time with the Derry Wolverines, Dave joined Pinkerton as the line coach when Jake was a freshman for the Astros.
“I was coach before Jake was born so it wasn’t his decision,” Dave joked. “I made the decision right away that I wouldn’t treat Jake any different. A lot of times, people don’t think I tell him when he does good things because people only see me letting him have it. But I do, just it’s off the field.”
While there was the occasional teasing from players early on, the family connection was quickly respected by Jake’s teammates.
“Sometimes they gave me trouble,” said Jake. “That comes with the whole deal. But he has been coaching me since I was little, so I am used to it. It was never a problem.”
While the intense Dave has been known to be tough on his son on the field, he has never had to push Jake to focus on the sport they love.
“It can be tough because he lives with me 12 months a year,” said Dave. “So we are breaking down film all the time, usually less than 12 hours after the game ends. So he is hearing about the mistakes he made right away, and I make sure he is running on his off days.
“But Jake has always been an extremely hard worker. He’ll get up at 5 a.m. to run, then lift and then work for a while. He doesn’t mind putting in the hard work. And he has had to work extremely hard because he is not a very big guy.”
Now in his third varsity season and second as a starting offensive lineman Jake — at 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds — isn’t about to intimidate anyone when he walks onto the field. But he has no problem with an opponent taking him lightly.
“They’re not underestimating me after I beat them,” he said proudly. “I have played next to guys like (6-foot-3, 275-pound) Jesse Trottier and (320-pound) Joe DeBenedetto. I know I have had to work out and get stronger to make up for my size, and I have also worked very had on my technique to make up for it.
“We have this freshman on the team this year who is pretty big and thought he could take me on. I was happy to show him he couldn’t.”
Bernaiche, who also starts at defensive end after playing just offense last season due to an injury to his patellar tendon, also has the aggressive nature to succeed on offense, a trait he inherited from his father.
“I can tell when he is ticked off,” said Dave. “He can have a quick temper like me, but he is more in control than I am. We are competitive, too. We lift together and play racquetball.”
With at most two games remaining in his high school football career Jake, who is hoping to play Division 3 college football, is thankful he had the time with his dad on the field.
Even if it meant the occasional awkward car ride or dinner.
“I think football brought us closer together from the time I was young and even more now,’ said Jake. “We watch college and NFL games together and talk about what they are doing. We will be able to share those things for years.”
Pinkerton’s opponent in the New Hampshire Division 1 semifinal tomorrow will seem very similar. The No. 2 Astros (8-1) faced No. 3 Nashua South (7-3) last Friday in the teams’ regular season finale. Pinkerton rolled to victory in that matchup 40-20 at Nashua’s Stellos Stadium, behind a pair of scores for Manny Latimore.
“Having played them last week we really know their personnel and tendencies,” said Astros lineman Jake Bernaiche. “We know what they are going to do, and they know what we want to do. We’re ready to take them on again, and we’re always motivated this time of year. This is what you strive for at Pinkerton.”
1. Central Catholic 8-1
2. Pinkerton 9-1
3. Andover 8-1
4. Haverhill 7-2
5. North Reading 7-1
Honorable mention: Greater Lawrence (7-2), Windham (7-3)
David Willis is a sportswriter/videographer for The Eagle-Tribune. You can see his video profiles at eagletribunetribune.com/sports