Francis Bernard’s athletic abilities have thrilled BYU fans since he stepped on campus last year as a running back in Robert Anae’s offense. Bernard is big, strong, fast, athletic, and was once pounding his way through, and past, defenders. Now, he’s rapidly becoming a fierce linebacker on BYU’s defense.
“It’s not a problem for him,” Coach Sitake said. “The game is easy for him and he’s a natural at linebacker, and he could go and play running back right now too, but we have a lot of good running backs. So, he’s a natural linebacker and has really good instincts and you can’t teach that. We’re trying to develop a scheme that allows him to play at his best and not think too much and just react. He’s doing a good job so far.”
The “Bo” linebacker position is similar to that of the “Flash” linebacker position (formerly known as the Sam linebacker under Mendenhall) where Fred Warner plays. It’s a position that incorporates the coverage abilities of the Flash, but it also includes Mike (or middle linebacker) responsibilities as well when it comes to the run game.
“The position I’m playing is the Bo position,” Bernard said. “It’s a little bit of playing both inside and the outside position kind of like the Flash linebacker. I do have a lot of the run responsibilities like the Mike linebacker position, but I do more pass coverage than the Mike like the Flash linebacker.”
To better understand the difference between Flash and Bo, look at how Su’a Cravens played on USC’s defense. Cravens was the Flash linebacker at USC, which is where Fred Warner plays.
“It’s kind of like that strong safety position but it’s at the linebacker position,” Bernard said. “Fred [Warner] plays that position so he kind of has both that strong safety play but at the outside linebacker position. I’m more in the middle depending on the play call, but I’ll also have to drop back into coverage depending on the play.”
Francis Bernard is not a saint. Check that, he is actually. He’s a Latter-day Saint with a strong desire for the laying on of pads. A player possessed with a spirit to knock the soul right out of his opponents.
“When I go out on the field I just want to be able to play with great instinct and with a sense of reckless abandon that is kind of on the border of chaos but isn’t,” said Bernard. “I don’t know if that makes sense or not, but I want to just go out and be that aggressive, hard-hitting athlete that plays his heart out but is also disciplined and smart.”
In his first year of playing Bo linebacker, Bernard is rapidly becoming that type of player by all accounts. Coaches and players alike have mentioned his name with reverence.
“Oh, Francis?” said Akile Davis sounding as though he was about to sing a popular hymn. “Francis, well, he’s a tough guy out there. He’s that enforcer type that can run and cover ground really fast. It’s going to be fun watching him hit people.”
“He’s a really good athlete,” said BYU defensive tackle Travis Tuiloma. “He’s picked up the Bo position really well and comes up really fast in run support.”
That’s because Francis Bernard was made for linebacker. It’s something BYU head coach Kalani Sitake saw when he first evaluated this former BYU tailback during spring camp of 2016.
“I feel a lot more comfortable playing the Bo linebacker today than I ever have,” said Bernard. “Coming back and getting back on the field I’m a little sloppy, but as far as understanding the position I feel really comfortable. I’m seeing it all coming together now and I’m understanding the little things more and more.”
Kalani Sitake works directly with Bernard to bring out his natural abilities at the Bo linebacker position.
“Each and every day, even in spring, he would work with the linebackers,” said Bernard. “He would help us with our stance and our footwork making sure that we have our stance right. He would make sure that we weren’t too low or our position was wrong and things like that. So, yeah, he plays a big part in helping the linebacker group develop to become the type of linebackers he wants in his system.”
Early in fall camp the linebacker first group currently consists of Fred Warner at Flash linebacker, Butch Pauu at Mike, and Francis Bernard at Bo. Then there is the hybrid linebacker/defensive end position called the “Will”, which is where Harvey Langi is lumped in with the group.
“As of right now early in fall camp we have Fred Warner on the outside at the Flash linebacker and it’s kind of like a strong safety,” said Bernard. “He comes up and plays in the run, but he’ll also drop back and play coverage every single time. We also play with a Mike linebacker, which is Butch Pau’u in the middle.
“Then there’s me at the Bo linebacker spot, which is also an inside linebacker position. Then the Will linebacker has been Harvey Langi who plays kind of that hybrid position and he looks really good. He can either play standing up and be a pass rusher or get down in the three-point and be a more traditional defensive end. It’s kind of a hybrid position.”
Get ready BYU fans. Francis Bernard is coming to LaVell Edwards Stadium soon to show his progress on a new side of the football.