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No hard feelings: Francis Bernard’s success with Utah Utes after transfer from BYU draws praise from former Cougar coaches

The last time BYU’s football team saw Francis Bernard up and close, he returned a Zach Wilson pass for a touchdown. Now defensive coaches applaud the Utah Utes athlete and his honors

SHARE No hard feelings: Francis Bernard’s success with Utah Utes after transfer from BYU draws praise from former Cougar coaches
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BYU quarterback Zach Wilson gets dragged down as he tries to throw a pass that is intercepted Utah Utes linebacker Francis Bernard, who ran it back for a touchdown during the University of Utah at BYU football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

PROVO — It was an exit, landing and triumph.

This is the story of former BYU linebacker Francis Bernard, his transfer to rival Utah and news this past week that Bernard was named first-team All-Pac-12 as a dominating, hard-hitting, playmaking linebacker on one of the country’s most dominating defenses in 2019.

His former football coaches at BYU salute Bernard. They know a good job when they see it, albeit in red and white.

While preparing this week for a bowl game against Hawaii in Aloha Stadium on Christmas Eve, the Cougar coaches were asked about Bernard and the Utes senior found praise. This from folks who once watched him intercept a pass while wearing a Cougar uniform in the first game of the Kalani Sitake era against Arizona.

“We have always wished him well. When he decided to leave, even when he was wearing their (Utah) colors, he still came around. I think we’ll never wish ill will on anybody for leaving our program,” said BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki.

“Since he left here, I think he’s figured things out and done a really good job. Not specific to him, but sometimes kids just need time. Sometimes you just hit a wall and have to find a way past it and he did just that. Good for him, we wish him well.” — BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki

Bernard is a gifted player who has great range and explosive skills and once upon a time he signed and played with the Cougars. Due to some irreconcilable differences at BYU, Bernard decided to transfer to Utah where he played his last two seasons.

This past season, Bernard was second on Utah’s defense in total tackles with 83 while starting all 13 games.

In the season opener between Utah and BYU, Bernard stepped in front of a Zach Wilson pass and returned it 58 yards for a second-quarter touchdown. That broke a 3-3 tie and was the foundation of Utah’s eventual victory.

Emotions of that game and loss aside, it does not erase admiration from his former coaches on the rival squad.

Bernard could have let the departure from BYU ruin his college career but he did not. He could have struggled to land, to find a place with new teammates. He did not. He could have quit. He did not.  

Bernard buckled down, embraced life as a married college athlete, asserted himself on the Utes’ roster and made himself an irreplaceable part of Morgan Scalley’s defensive unit.

Said Tuiaki, “Obviously, it didn’t work out for him here, but not because of football. Maybe it just wasn’t the right fit for him at the time. I think he’s a good, mature kid now and a lot of scouts ask about him because they want to hear our take. And you know what, he’s done a really good job there and he deserves the honors and a chance to play (at the next level).

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BYU linebacker Francis Bernard (13) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Arizona, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Phoenix. BYU defeated Arizona 18-16.

AP

“Since he left here, I think he’s figured things out and done a really good job. Not specific to him, but sometimes kids just need time. Sometimes you just hit a wall and have to find a way past it and he did just that. Good for him, we wish him well.”

Bernard will play in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, on Jan. 25, 2020.

BYU assistant coach Ed Lamb echoed similar sentiments. Both take their lead from Sitake, who told the media when Bernard left BYU more than two years ago that he loved him and wished him well.

When Bernard transferred from BYU, Sitake said, “I care about him as a person. ... Obviously, he is going through some things right now and I just hope he knows that we love and care for him.”

“People can be upset about (him leaving) or whatever, but the reality is that at that point in Francis’ life, BYU was not the right place,” said Lamb. “He knew that and we knew that. It’s a credit to everyone around here and to him for recognizing that and getting him to a spot where he could be successful.

“And credit goes to Utah and Utah’s staff and team for helping him out. I think he paid it back to them with some fantastic plays. I really enjoyed watching his progress on a personal level. From a coaching standpoint and BYU standpoint, we wish we could have made it right for him to be here and do it here, but you know, that worked out for him.”