SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Francis Bernard is getting a second chance to continue his football career.
The former BYU linebacker was cleared to join the University of Utah football team and start practicing Monday. The junior will have two seasons of eligibility remaining and is eligible to play with the Utes this season.
Bernard adds depth to a linebacker unit that includes starters Chase Hansen and Cody Barton and highly regarded JC transfer Bryant Pirtle.
Hansen already likes what he sees from his new teammate in terms of physicality, aggressiveness and football knowledge.
“He knows the game,” Hansen said. “He knows how to play with violence, which is what we do on this side of the ball, so he’s gonna be an awesome addition.”
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham declined to speculate on the exact role Bernard would play with the Utes, but he thinks Bernard has the skills and experience to get up to speed quickly. That could translate into a spot in the rotation or even a crack at a starting job down the line.
“He’s a guy that has a lot of experience at the Division I level and so it’s not anything that’s beyond his reach,” Whittingham said.
Bernard joins Utah after being arrested last October on suspicion of a DUI. He was later fined $1,420 and sentenced to 48 hours of community service on a conviction of impaired driving, a Class B misdemeanor, according to Utah County Justice Court records.
Before the arrest, Bernard had been sitting out the season following alleged violations of BYU’s honor code. He had missed the 2016 Poinsettia Bowl for violating team rules, following a sophomore season where he recorded 79 tackles and three interceptions. Bernard requested and was eventually granted a release to transfer from the school after being told he would not be able to play during the 2017 season.
Utah has had success in reviving careers for players with troubled pasts. The program notably brought Darren Carrington on board a year ago a few months after Oregon dismissed him following a DUI arrest. He went on to be Utah’s leading receiver, tallying 980 yards and six touchdowns on 70 catches.
Whittingham is confident Bernard can get on track with the Utes as well.
“He’ll fit right in with our guys,” Whittingham said. “They’ll take him under their wing. We expect him to become us. We won’t become him. He’ll become us.”