2015 Sleepy Eye Public gradute Matt Berkner excels both on and off the field for the Gusties. Berkner reflects on his time and accomplishments as his senior season has begun.
Being a collegiate student-athlete is challenging enough considering the amount of time it takes to do well in the classroom with the combination of the environment of competition. However, trying to maintain control of more than one sport as well as a full class load is even more difficult and requires a person to have a strong drive and concentration to find and then maintain success. That is exactly what former Sleepy Eye Public graduate Matt Berkner does at Gustavus Adolphus College.
In the spring of 2015, Berkner committed to Gustavus to play football for the Gusties. However, after watching one of his baseball games for the Indians later in the spring, Gustavus Head Baseball Coach Brad Baker convinced Berkner to also play baseball for the Gusties.
Now as a senior, Berkner is a prime example of a two-sport athlete. Berkner has excelled at both football and baseball. In football, Matt has become a staple for the Gustavus defense at middle linebacker. In his freshman season, Berkner played both running back and linebacker for the Gusties. A freshman getting a key role is rare at the college level, especially on both sides of the ball. After his freshman season, Berkner saw more playing time as a result of his hard work. Berkner played in ten games while starting five and tallied 36 tackles and led the team with tackles for a loss with five, including a season-high against MIAC powerhouse St. John’s University. Also in 2016, Berkner was named Honorable Mention for the MIAC All-Conference Team. His junior year was when Berkner took a big step forward. While representing Gustavus as a MIAC All-Conference Second Team member, Matt would lead the Gusties defense by starting in all 10 games as a junior and led the team with 69 total tackles. Berkner also led the defense in interceptions with two. Now in his senior season, Berkner, the son of Glenn Berkner and GayLynn Harmecek, is shooting for one more goal. All-American. “I’ve been a part of those teams in my sophomore and junior year,” he said. “This year it’d be great to be named an All-American. It could be a reach goal, but I’ve always tried to set my goals high and do whatever I can to achieve them.”
Through four games this season, Berkner has led the Gustavus defense in tackles in all four games, tallying a total of 44 tackles. Berkner is currently second throughout the entire MIAC conference in tackles per game, only trailing leader Luke Trudell from Hamline University. After being named Team Captain in High School, Berkner was also elected Team Captain for his senior season at Gustavus.
Once the football season concludes, Berkner will be looking forward to seeing the improvements of the Gustavus baseball team. Last season, the Gusties opened up their newly renovated baseball field while also clinching their first birth in the MIAC playoffs since 2008. In his first season in 2016, Berkner played in 17 games, starting 10 of them while filling the stat sheet with a .313 batting average, while collecting ten hits and a home run. In 2017, Berkner showed vast improvement at the plate as he was one of six Gusties to hit over .300. Berkner compiled an average of .313 once again but increasing his hit total to 31 with 19 RBI’s, and 21 runs scored.
While Berkner has seized every opportunity to succeed on the field, he has also enjoyed himself off the field. During his junior year, Berkner took advantage of an opportunity to study abroad in Germany. Berkner says he truly enjoyed his time overseas. “Easily one of the best times of my life,” he says. “I was over there for the month of January. The weather was surprisingly not too bad, it rained more than I thought it would, but it was still warmer than Minnesota.”
During his time in Germany, Berkner explored tourist spots in Bremen to visit the countryside, where he stayed in Ostriesland and stayed with a host family for an entire week. After Bremen, Berkner visited Berlin. In Berlin, Berkner found himself fascinated with the mystique Berlin represents with all of the World War II history. After Berlin, Berkner found himself in Munich for one week and then finished up his trip to the Alps. The Alps are the highest and most extensive mountain range in Europe. While reflecting on his time in Germany, Berkner says it is something he would like to do again someday. “It’s tough to say where my favorite place was because they all provided a fair share of experiences,” he says. “I am definitely going to take the opportunity to go back one day if I get the chance.”
With his senior year just underway, Berkner reflected on his decision to not only commit to Gustavus but to stay there. Just as his sophomore season was winding down, Matt almost transferred to the University of Minnesota. “Gustavus just felt like home to me. I am glad I stayed because I wouldn’t trade the memories I’ve made of the people I’ve met for the world.”
Berkner gives advice and reflection on what he has learned as a two-sport athlete at the college level as well, citing that time management is a huge responsibility. “Time management is huge,” Berkner states, “the biggest adjustment was taking advantage of every minute throughout the day.” Berkner says playing football and baseball can be a lot to handle, but it is easier with a solid plan to manage your time. He has also learned that you must be comfortable with being uncomfortable. “That is how you will be able to grow not only as an athlete but as a person as well.” Berkner also advises not to be afraid to ask for help. “People are always willing to lend you a hand, and it is up to you to take advantage of it.”
Berkner will graduate in May of 2019 with a degree in Personal Accounting. Berkner looks forward to the challenge. “I felt accounting would be beneficial to me to understand how the numbers work in a business. In addition, I feel my understanding of that as well as the leadership and people skills I have received in sports is an exceptional combination.”
Berkner’s next football game for Gustavus is at home vs. Concordia at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6 for the Gusties homecoming in St. Peter.