Champion Teammates Harber, Bernard Spark Montrose's Mat Resurgence
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
March 9, 2022
Levi Harber was ecstatic Saturday after winning his own Individual Wrestling Finals title.
But when his Montrose teammate Aidan Bernard won about an hour later, Harber’s excitement spilled into raw emotion.
“So, me and Aidan, ever since way back, we’ve been wrestling together,” Harber said. “... For me to do it, that meant that he had to do it, too. It was weird. I couldn’t celebrate unless I knew my partner in crime did it, too. The reason I was so emotional was that the kid works so hard. Aidan works so hard. He wanted it so bad.”
Harber won the Division 3 285-pound title at Ford Field, and Bernard won at 135 pounds. Following Bernard’s win, the two seniors shared a tearful embrace, celebrating a moment that gave Montrose multiple champions for the first time since 2006, when the Rams were among the most dominant teams in the state.
Their accomplishment wrapped up careers that included a combined six all-state finishes and saw Montrose advance to the Team Quarterfinals four times.
“That group, as a whole, was pretty special,” Montrose coach Jason Perrin said. “I don’t know if it would be as fitting if that group left us and didn’t have a couple top-of-the-podium guys. When that group came in as freshmen, they were the two that led the way right out of the gate. Those two definitely highlighted that class, so it definitely was fitting.”
Harber won his Finals title with a second-period pin, while Bernard won his Finals match 8-1.
They had the same goal heading into this season, but were coming at it from different angles.
Football is where Harber’s future lies, as he has signed to play at Vanderbilt. He decided as a sophomore that’s what he wanted to do, but that didn’t detract from his work as a wrestler. He simply just worked.
Harber’s daily routine includes waking up and going to the weight room by 3:30 a.m., and when the pandemic didn’t allow him to do so, he was able to get some of the equipment from the school and work out at home.
And even after he signed, he continued to put that effort into both sports, something his Vanderbilt coaches appreciated.
“Division I coaches love wrestlers,” Harber said. “They love multi-sport athletes, so when I told the coaches that I was a wrestler, they loved it. Because, wrestling is different. It’s not only difficult to do, it’s mentally hard. Football coaches are looking for kids who are not only physically strong, but mentally strong, and wrestling makes mentally-strong people.”
Harber entered the season having taken third as a sophomore and second as a junior. His ambition to win it all only increased when he realized that nobody from Montrose had ever done it at heavyweight.
“He brought it to my attention, and I was like, ‘No, you’re wrong,’” Perrin said. “We have a wall in our wrestling room with all our state placers. I went into the room one day and looked at it and was like, ‘Dang, he’s right.’”
Bernard also plays football for the Rams, but his love is wrestling. He plans to wrestle in college and has offers, but has not made a public commitment.
After taking third as a sophomore and fourth as a junior, he dedicated his offseason to getting over the hump and standing at the top of the podium.
“Last year really made me want it the most,” Bernard said. “Coming in as the No. 1 seed and taking fourth, I was hungry. I was really putting in a lot of work, because I had one more shot.”
His offseason included a trip to Virginia Beach, and while wrestling a New Jersey state champion there, he injured his knee. He was told it was his ACL, but nothing that would require surgery.
Bernard took a week off before competing in the Disney Duals. He played through the injury during football season and wrestled through it in the winter. While he wore a brace, he said it wasn’t an issue – until the Finals. Twice in his victory Saturday, Bernard had to take injury time because of his knee. Afterward, he would say that nothing – not the knee, not even a broken bone – would stop him from finishing the match.
“To be quite honest, I don’t really know if I asked or knew the extent to which he was injured,” Perrin said. “Every time I turned around, he was still doing this or that – he played football. When he took the first injury time, obviously I was concerned, but I knew it was something that he’s going to be able to battle through because he has all year. When he took the second, we were concerned, but my mind immediately went to he can’t take a third, because then he’s done. We were definitely making sure that he knew to hustle back to the center.”
Bernard made his road to the championship match look easy, with a 6-0 victory followed by a pair of pins. But he accomplished it against a returning Finals champion and two other placers, including one who had defeated him twice the year before.
“I remember I told (Perrin) specifically, ‘You have to beat them all, or you can’t win the title,’” Bernard said. “That was my main thought the whole time. No matter who I came up against, if I couldn’t beat that person, I couldn’t win the title.”
Getting Montrose back to its early-2000s heights is a tall task. The Rams won team titles in 2003 and 2004 and had 10 individual champions from 2003-06. But thanks to the Class of 2022, it’s closer than it’s been in a decade.
Harber and Bernard are at the center of that, and according to Harber, it can be drilled down even further.
“It was Aidan Bernard,” Harber said. “That was our team captain. If I had to have one man on that team command the ship, it’d be Aidan. He showed up to practice on the worst of days and the best of days, and he was always setting the tempo for the rest of us.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Levi Harber’s arm is raised in victory Saturday after his Division 3 championship win at 285 pounds. (Middle) Harbor and teammate Aidan Bernard hold up their charts after claiming titles at Ford Field. (Below) Bernard works to take his opponent to the mat. (Action photos by HighSchoolSportsScene.com; middle photo courtesy of the Montrose wrestling program.)