Pick-Six: The Francis Bernard Story

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Pick-Six: The Francis Bernard Story

University of Utah senior linebacker Francis Bernard (13) celebrating after tackling Arizona State University freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) in an NCAA Football game vs. Arizona State University at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT on Saturday October 19, 2019.(Photo by Curtis Lin | Daily Utah Chronicle)

University of Utah senior linebacker Francis Bernard (13) celebrating after tackling Arizona State University freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) in an NCAA Football game vs. Arizona State University at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT on Saturday October 19, 2019.(Photo by Curtis Lin | Daily Utah Chronicle)

University of Utah senior linebacker Francis Bernard (13) celebrating after tackling Arizona State University freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) in an NCAA Football game vs. Arizona State University at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT on Saturday October 19, 2019.(Photo by Curtis Lin | Daily Utah Chronicle)

University of Utah senior linebacker Francis Bernard (13) celebrating after tackling Arizona State University freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) in an NCAA Football game vs. Arizona State University at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT on Saturday October 19, 2019.(Photo by Curtis Lin | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Brayden Ramsay

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Committed, consistent and persistent are the words University of Utah senior linebacker Francis Bernard is described as by his brother James — words that tell a story and show a determination to finish what was started.

Those who have kept tabs on Bernard over the past four years know that he has had to navigate a few bumpy roads on his way to Utah. Ultimately, Bernard ended up right where he was supposed to be, not only for his football career, but in shaping him for the rest of his life.

Bernard grew up in Herriman, Utah in a family that put a major emphasis on believing in God, going to school and excelling in sports.

University of Utah senior linebacker Francis Bernard (13) runs with the ball after intercepting a pass from Washington State senior quarterback Anthony Gordon (18) in an NCAA Football game vs. Washington State University at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Photo by Curtis Lin | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

“My parents were super involved in everything we did, and they expected nothing but the best of us. They were hard on us, but I loved my childhood,” Bernard said.

He didn’t always stick to one sport growing up. In fact, he was a big fan of playing rugby and basketball. When he wasn’t lacing up his football cleats, Bernard could be found outside with his friends shooting hoops or scoring tries in rugby.

“Francis was always someone who was super competitive. We were two peas in a pod. Anytime I would go somewhere, he would come with me,” James said. “He was always really good at keeping up and one day he just became really good at everything.”

His journey to college football began to take shape as he played running back during his freshman year at Bingham High School. With the help of some supportive friends, Bernard made the switch to Herriman High in 2011 and loved every minute of being a Mustang.

“I was planning on staying at Bingham, but my best friend was a big influence on me transferring to Herriman,” Bernard said. “I’m glad I made that transition because I got to spend those few years with him. We still have a strong relationship and now that we both have kids it’s become even more awesome.”

Bernard would see success on the gridiron, earning himself a 2012 Region 7 first team and all-state honorable mention as well as being named to the Deseret News 4A all-state first team in 2011. Even though he showed promise, Bernard wasn’t highly recruited out of high school. He had always dreamed of suiting up for a Pac-12 team, but none of those schools showed interest early on. Bronco Mendenhall and the Brigham Young Cougars did pursue Bernard, though, and he decided to commit to play for the Cougars.

Before heading off to Provo, Bernard hung up his shoulder pads and helmet for two years to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Atlanta, Georgia.

“My mission was great. I can’t thank the people of Atlanta enough for changing me into the person I am today. It’s because of my mission that I do have the outlooks that I currently have,” Bernard said. “I’m so grateful for my mission president and my companions and the elders and sisters around me. I do plan on going back to visit soon. I miss Atlanta and will be forever grateful for it.”

University of Utah senior linebacker Francis Bernard (13) celebrates after a touchdown from making an interception vs. Brigham Young University during an NCAA Football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. (Photo by Kiffer Creveling | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

Upon his return, Bernard would move his life to Provo and don the number 13 for the Cougars.

A lot would happen in those two years in Utah County. Bernard would rush for 334 yards and score 9 touchdowns in his freshman season. This would include a touchdown against the Utes in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2015.

Bernard would switch positions in 2016, moving to linebacker after Jamaal Williams was named as the starting running back for BYU.

“It was tough. I came in, had the hot hand and played a good freshman year. It was tough because I had a good freshman year and then was asked to play linebacker because I had never done it before,” Bernard said. “It was made a bit easier because my coaches Kalani [Sitake] and Ilaisa [Tuiaki] gave me a lot of confidence.”

His confidence showed on the field as well. Bernard racked up 80 tackles alongside two sacks and three interceptions for the Cougars after switching to defense.

Unfortunately, trouble found its way to Bernard as the 2016 season came to a close. He was suspended from BYU’s football team for disobeying the Honor Code due to a DUI arrest. Bernard would take a year away from football before joining the Utes in 2018.

“I had some other options after leaving BYU, but I always wanted to be here and I knew what Coach [Whittingham] and the coaching staff stood for and I wanted to be a part of what was growing here and what was to come, Bernard said. “I’m glad that I made that decision because great things are happening and as the weeks go by, we continue to make our mark and watch history unfold itself. It’s been awesome being here.”

The linebacking corps in 2018 was among the best that Utah had ever seen. Chase Hansen and Cody Barton were two NFL talents showcasing their skills and being leaders to those who would back them up. Bernard would see limited playing time throughout the season but would pay attention and learn lessons from his teammates. When Hansen sustained a season-ending injury late in the year, Bernard would step in and use those lessons to help Utah win some tough games down the stretch. Those lessons would eventually help Bernard to become a standout in his own right in 2019.

University of Utah sophomore linebacker Devin Lloyd (20) and University of Utah senior linebacker Francis Bernard (13) tacking a rushing NIU running back in an NCAA Football game vs. Northern Illinois University at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT on Saturday Sept. 7, 2019. (Photo by Curtis Lin | Daily Utah Chronicle)

“I think it goes back to Cody and Chase and even the guys before them for setting a really good standard. Guys like Jared Norris and Gionni Paul set it up so everyone who steps in the linebacker room knows they have to be great,” Bernard said. “Devin [Lloyd] and I’s mindset has been that we know those two were great last year, but we want to be even better. So it’s definitely a credit to those guys in the past that made the upcoming linebackers want to be great and be even better than them.”

2019 has been good to the U football team so far. Before the game against UCLA on Saturday, the Utes were8-1, 5-1 Pac-12 after a massive win against Washington. Gratitude was the feeling that Bernard described as he spoke about his team and the situation the Utes are in.

“I’m just grateful to be a part of such an amazing team. Not only as football players, but off the field, the guys are awesome. We joke around with each other and we hang out whenever we can, but I’m just grateful that they’ve opened their arms to me and allowed me to be a part of their family, Bernard said. “They’re definitely a part of mine too. We control our destiny and every step of the rest of the way. As long as we take things one step at a time and one practice at a time, we’re unstoppable. We’ll be great.”

The Utah-BYU rivalry is deeply imbedded into Bernard’s veins as he has played for both schools and had success against both schools. In fact, Bernard is the only player in the rivalry’s history to score a touchdown and have an interception for both Utah and BYU while playing against the other team.

“I remember one of the institute guys told me that stat and I remember thinking how ironic it was that it happened that way, Bernard said of this feat. “That game is a special game to play in and even the fans know that special things happen in that game. I’m fortunate enough that I was able to prepare for those situations and make it happen.”

Bernard is a family man. In the past two years, he and his then-girlfriend Alexis gave birth to their first son, Lennox. The two were also married in 2019 during Utah’s first bye week. Not only has he learned life lessons and found motivation from his teammates, but also from his wife and son.

Alexis was a swimmer at BYU when she and Bernard began dating. They were recently married and love their life as a newly married couple and parents to Lennox. Lennox was a miracle baby, weighing only 2 pounds, 2 ounces at birth. The use of a ventilator and other medical attention was needed to help him live through his first moments of life. Now, Lennox is doing well and both he and his mom are regulars at Utah football games, cheering on dad as Bernard helps lead the defense on game days.

“They mean everything to me. They are a big reason why I made a big transition this offseason. They helped put everything into perspective and helps me to want to provide as much as I can for them and give them a good future, Bernard said. “I never want them to struggle, so I’ve always looked at football as a platform and hope that one day football can be a platform for that in the future. The more I do well and the more that I succeed, I just know that it’s all for them.”

“Everybody had a perspective that Francis changed,” James said. “Maybe he changed himself, but I think getting married and having Lennox magnified who he already was. He’s always been a family guy and he’s always been a stand-up guy.”

Bernard’s journey has had twists and turns with a few bumps along the way. Although maneuvering those roads has been tough at times, he’s found some great people and moments as he’s taken hold of his life’s steering wheel. One of those things being a home and a family at the U.

 

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