Portland State (0-0) at BYU (0-0)
Saturday, 1 p.m. MDT LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
PROVO — While BYU’s season is on the verge of kicking off, there’s still some behind-the-scenes drama regarding junior linebacker Francis Bernard.
The Cougars host FCS opponent Portland State on Saturday (1 p.m., ESPN) but many are wondering about the future of Bernard, a projected starter this season.
Last Thursday, BYU announced that Bernard would be redshirting for personal reasons. Over the weekend, Bernard’s older brother, James, told The Salt Lake Tribune he is angry about the BYU Honor Code Office’s handling of Francis' situation. He said Francis would seek a release from BYU in order to transfer to archrival Utah.
Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said Monday on his radio show that Bernard is leaving the program.
“He’s going to leave, but I don’t know where he is going to go. We give him our advice and he just has to make the decision for what is best for him," Tuiaki said. "What you want with a kid like that when he is leaving is to treat him like your son. I don’t think anything is finalized yet, but he’s moving forward with his decision.”
BYU football spokesman Brett Pyne later clarified that "no decision has been made at this point."
Earlier in the day, BYU coach Kalani Sitake acknowledged during his scheduled media availability that transferring was a possibility for Bernard.
“There are a lot of options that are still out there," Sitake said. "There are some things that have been premature that haven’t been decided yet. All I can tell you is that we love Francis and want what is best for him. … It’s his decision, and we are here to help him.”
Francis Bernard attended Monday's practice in Provo but did not participate.
Sitake referred to his comment earlier this year about his stance on players transferring into or out of the program.
“I made a statement that if a player is not happy they should get a release. I did that in regards to returned missionaries that are coming home from missions,” Sitake said. “Things get a little bit more difficult when they become part of your team or they become students. I don’t have all of the answers to all of that. I want all of our players to have success.”
Sitake reiterated that his goal is to help his players.
“We’ll always be involved with them but I will respect them and give them the opportunity to make their decisions but I want to be there to help them out as well,” he said. “Without going into any details, there are so many different variables that go into that stuff. I’m just trying to be respectful of people and their families and decisions that are made and options that they have. I’m here to support our players.”
Quarterback and team captain Tanner Mangum didn’t address the situation with Bernard specifically but expressed his support for all of his teammates.
“We’re a family on the team. We spend so much time together. We’re all super close and good friends. It’s a brotherhood,” Mangum said. “We obviously want all of our teammates to be happy. We want what’s best for them. Regardless of what the situation is, we want them to know that we’re here for them.”
Bernard joined BYU’s program in 2015 as a running back, then was switched to linebacker prior to the 2016 season. As a freshman, Bernard rushed 52 times for 334 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry.
Last season at linebacker, the former Herriman High star finished third on the team in tackles, with 80, to go along with 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and three interceptions.
However, the Cougar defense was forced to play without Bernard in the Poinsettia Bowl win over Wyoming last December. About an hour before kickoff, news spread that Bernard would not be playing for undisclosed reasons. He participated in spring practices and most of fall camp.
While Bernard’s situation hangs in the balance, the Cougars are preparing for the season opener against the Vikings.
“There’s a lot of excitement. Shoot, it’s five or six days away. The guys are anticipating the opening of the season and looking forward to hitting somebody else,” Sitake said. “We started scouting Portland State last week. We feel like we’ve got a good jumpstart to everything. … I think these guys are ready to roll. They’ve been preparing for this all of the offseason. It’s almost go time.”
“Everyone’s excited. It’s finally that time. All of that work we put in throughout the winter, spring and summer is coming together,” Mangum said. “Everyone’s pumped up and excited. You’ve got to keep everyone dialed in this week. It’s easy to look ahead to Saturday but we have to focus on each day, each practice. … There’s a little bit of different energy in the air because everyone knows it’s game week. There’s a little bit more of a sense of urgency. Fall camp went by really fast. I think we made the most of every day.”