WISE, Va. – Tanner Bernard introduced himself Saturday afternoon.
To those who follow the football program at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.
To those 1,408 spectators on hand at Carl Smith Stadium.
To the Mountain East Conference.
A year ago to the date he had been leading Brookville High School of Lynchburg, Virginia, to a road win over the Harrisonburg Blue Streaks with two touchdown passes and three rushing TDs.
On Saturday, Bernard shined in his first collegiate start for the UVa-Wise Highland Cavaliers.
The teenager wearing No. 12 and looking like a seasoned veteran passed for 290 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-20 MEC victory over the Concord Mountain Lions.
Bernard didn’t throw an interception and wasn’t sacked once.
Talk about poise.
“I can’t say enough about Tanner,” said UVa-Wise coach Dane Damron. “That’s a pretty good debut. I thought [offensive coordinator Klay Koester] and his staff did a great job of keeping him in situations to succeed. We didn’t ask him to be too complicated.
“We gave him manageable throws and told him to manage the game and he did a good job. There were a couple of times where he did more than manage the game and made some really good throws and really good plays.”
Damron said the coaching staff had originally planned to redshirt Bernard this season.
Those plans changed when quarterbacks Jarome Johnson and Garrett Cropp were injured in a season-opening loss to Glenville State.
Brycen Lee played badly at the position in the second game, also a defeat.
Next up was the new guy.
Bernard had been informed following UVa-Wise’s 33-12 loss to West Virginia State the week before that he would be leading the offense.
“I was nervous as soon as I was told,” Bernard said. “You’ve got to get over that and fight through that, because it’s your time to shine.”
Bernard did his homework.
“Every day this week I would go in his [dorm] room and see how he was doing,” said running back Jamorya Cousin. “He was in there watching film and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, he’s ready.’ ”
Bernard also rushed for 42 yards on seven carries on Saturday.
Meanwhile, seven different players caught passes for the Cavaliers.
“How confident he was really impressed me,” said tight end Jake Barnett, who had four receptions for 30 yards. “Many times a true freshman doesn’t have that since college is a lot different than high school. But he was rolling out, extending plays.”
Bernard also benefitted from having Kaian Duverger as an option.
Referred to by his teammates as “The Catch,” the 6-foot-6 Duverger towers over opposing defensive backs and is almost impossible to defend. He caught scoring strikes of 15, 23 and 15 yards from Bernard and finished with eight receptions for 173 yards.
“You just throw the ball to him and he’ll do the rest as you could see,” Bernard said. “I’m lucky to be in the position I am.”
Has UVa-Wise, which has struggled to find consistency at the QB position for nearly a decade, found a savior at signal-caller?
That has yet to be seen, but Bernard certainly made a good first impression.
“He is awesome,” said senior linebacker Dylan Giovine. “I’ve seen it in practice and knew he was good. It was great getting to see it out there. I’m proud of him.”