Growing up in California, one may have expected Chris Bernard to pattern his game after NFL stars Jerry Rice or Tim Brown.
As a youngster, however, he was thinking more along the lines of Alexi Lalas.
"I thought I was going to be a big soccer player," said Bernard, a native of Mission Viejo. "I was pretty good at soccer when I was younger, and I never played any 'Pee Wee' football or anything like that. I kind of stumbled upon football. I probably wouldn't have played, but when I was in ninth grade, a couple of friends said, 'You could be a good football player. You ought to try out.'"
Six years later, Bernard is a junior college All-American at wide receiver and receiving attention from NCAA football programs across the nation. On Friday, the Saddleback College star will take the next step in his football career when he signs with Kentucky.
"I'm really excited, really happy with my decision," Bernard said. "I really never thought I'd be at this point. I can't wait to get to Kentucky. With the role I'm going to play for them, it's going to be a lot of fun."
At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds and possessing 4.4 speed, Bernard says the UK staff envisions him as a taller deep threat they've been missing in the offensive attack.
"They've got a lot of possession receivers and a couple of guys who can fly, but they're really small," he said. "They made me feel like I was 6-3 or 6-4. The coaches told me they needed somebody my size who could run, and they think I can be their deep threat. When I heard that, I was really excited. They throw the ball all over the field, so I know I'm going to get plenty of chances to make things happen.
"They've got a great system, a great quarterback (Jared Lorenzen), and I just felt like it's a good place for me to try to make it to the next level."
Bernard, who caught 61 passes for 957 yards and eight touchdowns this year at Saddleback, had narrowed his choices to UK, Colorado State and Montana. He said the lure of playing in the SEC was too much to pass up.
"I wanted to play big-time football in front of 70,000 people every week," he said. "And I wanted to face the best players. I know the DBs in the SEC are unreal. I can't wait to face those guys."
Bernard will enroll at UK on Jan. 8. He's one of 14 players who have given verbal commitments for the 2002 signing class, but will have the advantage of going through spring drills with the Cats in March.
"That was the main reason I wanted to get there as early as possible," he said. "I wanted to get out there, learn the offense and my teammates. It would be hard to come in during August and have to learn everything in one month before you play your first game."
Bernard said he's currently working on agility drills to further improve his quickness. He may consider running track at Kentucky as well.