Just a couple days after Utah fell to Penn State in the Rose Bowl, in early January, running back Micah Bernard entered the transfer portal.

By the end of January, the 6-foot, 195-pound junior from Long Beach, California, was back with the Utes. 

“It was easy to come back rather than leave. I love everybody on this team; they’re my brothers. It was hard to even think about leaving them.” — Utah running back Micah Bernard

This week, Bernard addressed the media for the first time this spring and answered questions about why he entered the portal before deciding to return. 

“The process was a fast, long process. I went into the portal. There were some things that happened that ultimately put me in the portal. I’m not going to disclose those things but coming back, I knew it was the right choice for me because I’ve been here for so long already,” said Bernard, who was limited during part of spring practices due to an injury. “It was easy to come back rather than leave. I love everybody on this team; they’re my brothers. It was hard to even think about leaving them. Being able to come back, it was easy to make that decision.”

How were his conversations with coach Kyle Whittingham during that process?

“It was very welcoming. Coach wanted me back. There were a lot of times I talked to him on the phone while in the process still. I was listening to everything I was being told,” Bernard said. “Those guys, they want the best interest for you.

“If they think it’s OK for you to leave, they’re going to tell you. If they want you back, they’re going to tell you. They said, ‘Look, we want you here but we know we’re going to do what you want to do.’ And that’s what we ultimately did. I decided, my choice, to come back.”

Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig talked to Bernard during this time as well. 

“Bernard and I had a couple of conversations. I just said, ‘Hey, I think this is the place for you’ when he said he wanted to look around,” Ludwig said. “I’m watching his film and I’m like, ‘You have done so much in so many different ways at this school. Are you sure moving is the best thing for you?’”

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Ludwig is thrilled to have Bernard’s talents at his disposal this fall. 

“I’m fired up to have him back because he is so versatile. His football intellect is off the chart,” he said. “He’s great out of the backfield and he’s a very good runner. He’s an excellent pass protector. I don’t have enough good things to say about the young man.”

In the 2022 Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State, Bernard caught a touchdown pass and played cornerback because the Utes’ defensive secondary was so depleted.

How do those back-to-back losses in the Rose Bowl sit with Bernard? 

“I don’t like the Rose Bowl. That’s how it feels. You want to (win) one,” he said. “I’ve grown up watching the game and not to be able to get it done, it kind of hurts. It makes you kind of hate the Rose Bowl. But it’s the ‘Granddaddy of Them All’. You’ve gotta love it. It hurts so much.”

Bernard joined the program in 2019 at the age of 17. In 37 career games with Utah, he’s rushed 208 times for 1,132 yards with six touchdowns. Bernard has also caught 64 passes for 590 yards and three TDs.

In the Utes’ 2021 loss at BYU, Bernard carried the ball 12 times for 146 yards and scored a 22-yard fourth-quarter touchdown — his first career touchdown.

With so much experience on his résumé, Bernard is now one of the leaders of the Utah offense.

“He’s been with us for five years. The system hasn’t changed,” Ludwig said. “Those guys are so special because it doesn’t take a big, long description of what you’re trying to get done. There are things he can draw back from. He sees it from a little bit different perspective and can add insight, which is invaluable.”

Part of Bernard’s role is mentoring the less-experienced players. 

“Just helping the younger guys. When I’m gone, it’s going to be them,” he said. “So I’ve been trying to help the younger guys, whatever they need. Hopefully, they take up what I’ve done and pass it on.”

Utah running back Micah Bernard celebrates a touchdown during game against BYU at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. The touchdown was his first as a Ute. | Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News