SALT LAKE CITY — Former BYU linebacker Francis Bernard has officially joined the Utah Utes.
“It’s great to have him in the program — a real great effort on his part to get himself eligible and where he needed to be to be able to join us,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
Bernard, who will not be allowed to speak with the media until further notice, practiced without pads Monday as he works through the five-day NCAA-mandated acclimatization period.
“He had some work to do to get here and he busted his rear end and got it all done,” said Whittingham, who noted that Bernard had to earn his associate’s degree and meet other unspecified requirements in order to join the Utes. He had legal issues earlier in his collegiate career.
Whittingham expressed confidence that Bernard will fit in with the team.
“Our guys will take him under their wing,” Whittingham said. “We expect him to become us. We won’t become him. He’ll become us.”
"Our guys will take him under their wing. We expect him to become us"@DirkFacer has the details on Francis Bernard joining the @Utah_Football program https://t.co/NIVfRKioG3 pic.twitter.com/h3LVGr2EnQ— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) August 13, 2018
Bernard, who has two years of eligibility remaining, joins a deep linebacker crew headlined by senior starters Chase Hansen and Cody Barton. Junior Donavan Thompson, junior college transfer Bryant Pirtle and redshirt freshman Devin Lloyd are also in the mix.
“This program is all about earning your way,” Whittingham said. “Nothing is given to you.”
Linebackers coach Justin Ena acknowledged there’s a place for Bernard.
“There definitely is. He’s a great kid, has great natural talent — a physical, strong kid and I’m excited to work with him,” Ena said. “He’s a smart kid. Working with him a little bit and talking to him today, I know he understands the schematics of (the defense). Verbage is all going to be brand new but he’ll be good this year.”
Ena isn’t all that concerned that Bernard hasn’t played in a game since 2016.
“He’s a football player,” Ena said. “Football players, they can pretty much come back real quick and do their thing and I’m excited about it.”
Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley also expressed optimism about the addition of Bernard.
“(I’m) very familiar with his skill set, not really familiar with how he learns,” Scalley said. “So that’s going to be the big thing — is getting him on board, making sure he understands how we do things schematically. I think there’s some carryover from what he was doing down south.”
As such, Scalley thinks Bernard will be fine. Players like Hansen agree.
“It’s awesome. I’ve been able to talk to him quite a bit today, especially, and he’s already been out there, he’s already committed,” Hansen said. “He already seems like he’s hungry, I guess is the best way to say it. He came out here in just a helmet and he’s wanting to get into the action as soon as possible. So it’s awesome to see a guy that’s as anxious as he is.”
Hansen also appreciates the added depth Bernard brings to Utah’s linebacker corps.
“I feel like the more, the merrier — especially with this defense,” Hansen said. “We always need the depth. It’s always next man up. Every year something happens, you know. Who knows how we use him or where we use him. But’s he’s going to be an awesome addition I think.
Bernard, a former Herriman High star, served an LDS Church mission to Atlanta. Upon his return, Bernard saw action as a running back (346 yards, seven touchdowns) for BYU in 2015. The following season he was switched to linebacker and made a big impact, making 80 tackles and intercepting three passes.
In October 2017, while redshirting for personal reasons, Bernard was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in Vineyard. The Utah County Sheriff’s Office also confirmed that he was cited for driving without a valid driver's license and for investigation of failing to register his vehicle or having an expired registration.
The following Monday, BYU coach Kalani Sitake announced that Bernard asked for his release from the program “a couple of weeks back. Sitake said that he granted the request. He added that Bernard “was looking at all of his options, and one of them was possibly returning here with a release in hand.
“I wish him the best in finding what is the best place for him, and I care about him,” Sitake said at the time.