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Ready, willing and able: Utah’s Francis Bernard ready to ‘drive’ whatever team drafts him

Linebacker working hard for an opportunity as the draft approaches

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Utah linebacker Francis Bernard looks on as the Utes go through their first day of fall camp on Wednesday, July 31, 2019, at the Eccles Football Center Fields on the school’s campus in Salt Lake City.

Utah Athletics

SALT LAKE CITY — Francis Bernard recently hit the jackpot, so to speak, in Las Vegas. The Utah linebacker went there for a private pro day and was pleased with his performance, particularly in the 40 — lowering his 4.81 time at the NFL Scouting Combine to 4.65.

At last month’s combine in Indianapolis, Bernard injured his hamstring during the bench press and when jumping. He had so much adrenaline, though, that he didn’t realize it.

Bernard has since healed and was preparing for Utah’s annual pro day when it was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic. So when former BYU linebacker Jordan Pendleton, who now trains and mentors athletes, offered him a chance to improve his numbers from the combine, Bernard eagerly accepted. 

With Pendleton doing the driving in a car that also included the Utes’ Bradlee Anae and the Cougars’ Austin Lee, they headed for Vegas where times and marks would be verified by the same mechanisms used at the combine. It proved to be a successful outing for all. The performances were videotaped and sent to NFL teams.

Bernard, who said he was really lucky to tag along, noted that he was able to take care of business. 

“It’s going to help me out a lot,” Bernard said of his improved times. “It’s going to just confirm what I can do and stuff on the field.”

After earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors, Bernard accepted invitations to both the Senior Bowl and the combine. He started all 14 games for the Utes and was second on the team with 85 tackles (7.5 for loss) and two interceptions, earning conference player of the week honors twice.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has high praise for Bernard. He said the 6-foot-1, 235-pound transfer from BYU is a terrific inside linebacker.

“Instinctive, has a nose for the ball — tough, athletic. He’s just a guy that has a great feel for the position.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham on Francis Bernard

“Instinctive, has a nose for the ball — tough, athletic,” Whittingham said. “He’s just a guy that has a great feel for the position.”

Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said Bernard is a lot like safety Terrell Burgess.

“His smarts and his football knowledge are what allowed him to make a ton of plays for us this year,” Scalley said. “He’s a guy that’s going to get in a room in front of a GM or a position coach and he is going to impress them with his football knowledge.”

Scalley added that Bernard was very productive and the biggest reasons include his athleticism and understanding of the game.

The latter is something the former Herriman High star takes a lot of pride in. He arrives early and leaves late for film sessions, preparing himself to be in the most successful positions possible on the field.

“It’s not because of me just knowing the game. It’s because I’ve put in countless hours of studying film,” Bernard said. “Not just college film, but NFL film and trying to figure out why these guys do this and then going back and watching my games.”

Bernard has also studied tape of former teammates Cody Barton and Chase Hansen. He acknowledges learning a ton from “the great linebackers” after joining the Utes in 2018.

“That led over to me having a successful senior year. Everything just slid into place,” Bernard said. “Everything happened the way it was supposed to happen and I don’t regret anything at all. I’m just fortunate enough to be in this position.”

“It’s not because of me just knowing the game. It’s because I’ve put in countless hours of studying film. Not just college film, but NFL film and trying to figure out why these guys do this and then going back and watching my games.” — Francis Bernard

Gratitude was also expressed for participation in the Senior Bowl and combine, where he met with all 32 NFL teams and was able to speak with position coaches.

“All of my interviews went well and the feedback was well, too,” Bernard said. “I have a lot to be grateful for and I’m lucky that I was able to do a lot of things.”

After a well-documented and tumultuous departure from BYU for off-the-field troubles, Bernard transferred to Utah. He made 80 tackles and had three interceptions as a sophomore for the Cougars in 2016 before sitting out the following season.

“At the time, in the moment of when I left BYU, there was a lot of uncertainty,” Bernard said. “My main focus was to get back into school and to finish school.”   

As things brightened for Bernard at Utah, so did hopes of a future in professional football. He earned a degree in sociology along the way.

“Right when I was getting back in the groove of things ... that’s when I was able to see myself and have aspirations and goals to play in the NFL — play at the highest level and be successful,” he said. “So when I got that fire back I was able just to get it blowing.”

Bernard got back on track at Utah. He credits his time in the program for getting him ready to play at the next level. 

“I loved the fact that I had to come in and earn everything that’s coming my way right now. Nothing was given to me,” he said, adding that Whittingham’s ability to keep everything professional was also beneficial. “There’s just so many ways that the University of Utah prepared me.”

Those Bernard singled out include Whittingham, Scalley and linebackers coach Colton Swan. 

“I’m grateful for everything they’ve done and where I’m at today,” he noted. 

Final preparations for the draft, though, have been challenging because of the coronavirus pandemic. Gyms have shut down and plans to gear up out-of-state evaporated. Bernard decided the come home. He said it’s all about staying in football shape and making sure his mind is right. And yes, Bernard is also watching a lot of film so he’s ready to go wherever he’s headed.

Bernard is working out at his brother’s garage-style gym and does a lot of running on his own. He’s also spending time at Pendleton’s fitness facility in Lehi. The preparation is countered by concerns to keep his family safe from the virus, maintaining social distance and staying home as much as possible.

“I hope things kind of settle out here in the next couple of weeks,” said Bernard, who hopes to leave his apartment in South Jordan to watch the draft (April 23-25) with his parents, grandparents and siblings at the family home in Daybreak.


Utah Utes linebacker Francis Bernard breaks up a pass to Northwestern Wildcats running back John Moten IV during NCAA football at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Monday, Dec. 31, 2018.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

That, Bernard acknowledged, would be ideal. As for an NFL destination, Bernard doesn’t know exactly what to expect. The feedback he and his agent are getting has him going late on Day 2 or early on Day 3.

“I’ve talked to a lot of teams,” Bernard said. “There have been a lot of teams that I would say have shown a lot of interest that I’ve talked to multiple times from the Senior Bowl to the combine to post-combine. I’ve gotten phone calls.”

Video calls have also been scheduled as the draft nears. However, it’s the big picture overall that matters most.

“Honestly I just need the opportunity to go in and play,” Bernard said. “I know whatever team takes me they’re going to be lucky to have me. Because I’m going to stick and really help the team grow and I’m going to drive whatever team I’m at.”

•. •. •

What they’re saying about Francis Bernard

NFL.COM: “Priority free agent.”

CBS SPORTS: Fifth round, 168th overall — Philadelphia Eagles

DRAFTTEK: Sixth round, 217th overall — New England Patriots

PRO FOOTBALL NETWORK: Fifth round, 147th overall — Cincinnati Bengals

USA TODAY: Fifth round, 157th overall — Atlanta Falcons