SALT LAKE CITY — Kyle Whittingham believes in second chances, especially involving potential stars. For the second consecutive year, the Ute coach has added an acclaimed player who transferred from another school after issues with the law.
Monday the team announced BYU transfer Francis Bernard is officially on the roster. Last year it was wide receiver Darren Carrington, formerly of Oregon. Whittingham’s policy: “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, your troubled but talented problem players.”
In terms of welcoming newcomers, he’s a regular Nancy Pelosi. Fine, but why take players such as Bernard, who have had problems at other schools? Because there’s no legal reason they can’t, and because someone else will happily take the chance. And because there’s no competitive reason why not.
As for character reasons, that’s the risk a coach takes. If it fails, the program gets embarrassed and a scholarship gets wasted.
Carrington was arrested for DUII and was involved with other minor legal brushes before being kicked off the Ducks squad. Last season he played at Utah, where he led all receivers with 918 yards and six touchdowns. Equally important, he ended up staying out of trouble as a Ute. Whittingham called him a “model teammate” at season’s end.
This year it’s Bernard, a 6-foot-1, 239-pound running back turned linebacker, who had 80 tackles in 2016 for the Cougars. He was suspended before that season’s Poinsettia Bowl for violating team rules, and last fall was arrested on suspicion of DUI. In August 2017, a video appeared on MormonLeaks, in which he appeared to be threatening someone at his apartment complex.
Eventually Bernard decided BYU wasn’t for him.
Whittingham isn’t alone in making decisions on players such as Bernard. Every team deals with dumb things kids do at young ages. Players get suspended then reinstated. Occasionally they get dismissed. Often they grow up.
“We expect him to become us,” Whittingham told media Monday. “We won’t become him, he’ll become us.”
Bernard isn’t automatically going to be the impact player Carrington was. Chase Hansen’s move to linebacker, combined with returning starters Donavan Thompson and Cody Barton, as well as junior college transfer Bryant Pirtle and promising 6-3 redshirt freshman Devin Lloyd, already gave Utah a solid group of linebackers. Depth and quality at that position have been a problem for many Utah teams.
“We went from a position that was kind of a question mark to one we’re feeling better about — if we can keep guys healthy,” said defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley.
Whittingham has called Bernard “a tremendous football player,” which explains a lot.
The Ute coach shouldn’t necessarily worry about taking a player who had issues at BYU. But if there is more police trouble, Whittingham should sack him like an unprotected quarterback.
Since joining the Pac-12, depth has been an issue for the Utes, but after seven years in the conference, they have greatly improved in that area. Bernard has size, run-stop ability, and against Utah in 2016 he picked off a downfield pass like a wideout. But his history has been marred by interruptions, thanks to off-field problems. Though just a two- or three-star recruit out of high school, he began playing early and often at BYU.53 comments on this story
The addition of Bernard is a gift for the Utes, at least an insurance policy in case another linebacker goes down with an injury. But for an already modestly talented BYU, it was a big loss. That’s why life in college football for the Cougars continues to be hard. Players like Bernard are hard to attract, and even harder to keep.
Meanwhile, Utah continues to improve across the depth chart. No wonder it jumped at the chance to get Bernard.
It’s fair to question Whittingham for taking a player with Bernard’s past. But it worked with Carrington. Can the same thing happen again?
“He’ll fit right in,” Whittingham said.
In some ways he already does.