"It's so nice to have Bernard back on the line," said Matt Putnam. "It's about time he got back here and he's amazing. He's not very tall but he's like a Bulldog, so we've decided to name him the Bulldog because he growls all the time. During one-on-ones against the offense he growls and never stops so we call him the Bulldog. He's also shorter than everyone else so we make fun of him. He's the Bulldog out there."
"It's about stopping the offense and getting the ball back to us," said Afutiti. "The basic thing an offense will do is when they have the ball and are winning with little time left, they will run the ball. It's up to the defense to stop them and get the ball back as quickly as possible to give our offense enough time to try and score again. What is great is we've been able to do the type of things this early in spring. That's a really good thing too because we're able to develop as fast as we have this early with a lot of good things coming. Our early performance will only help us in the long run."
Typically during spring practice, the offense is further along in regards to execution and production. The defense has become a pleasant surprise so far during a spring process intended to not only help players become masters of their positions, but to also create competition for the purpose of finding those players that are the best fit. So what is Afutiti's assessment of how the defense is performing this early in spring camp?
"I think the defense is doing awesome and everyone is where they are supposed to be," said an excited Afutiti. "Everyone is on point and do what they are supposed to do. Everyone is assignment-sound and because of that we saw what the defense could do. The coaches have done a great job in getting everyone prepared and you can see how we are responding to that."
However, it hasn't always been rosy. Coach Mendenhall held Afutiti out of practice until he could get his schoolwork in order. Having missed the beginning of spring practice, Afutiti feels he has to prove himself to his coaches and teammates.
"I think what I'm trying to do is prove myself to my teammates," said a humble Afutiti. "I had been slacking off and I guess you can say I haven't been that dependable, so what I'm trying to do is show my teammates that I'm focused and that I'm here for them. It's not about me, it's about my teammates."
"He's done a nice job and it's never been an issue of his physical ability and his talent as a football player," said Coach Mendenhall. "It's just life consistency and academic consistency are really the challenges that we are working on with him. We would really like to see him succeed."
During practice scrimmages, Afutiti has used his quickness off the line to help pressure the quarterback and also create penetration that has allowed linebackers to become more effective. The defensive results during Tuesday's situational practice were very positive and, although he would never admit it, Afutiti played a part in that success.
"Coach Kaufusi has talked to me about being that guy that everyone can depend on," Afutiti said. "He's talked to me about being that guy that he can depend on. When it's clutch time and we need someone to make a play to help the team, he wants me to be that dependable guy. I'm just trying to be that guy that he and my team can depend on when I'm needed."
"He's like a little pit bull out there and never stops," said fellow defensive lineman Brett Denney. "He just goes out there and flies around. He's not very tall but he has a lot of tricks in his bag and can do anything he wants to those offensive guys. Because he's low to the ground, some may think that is a disadvantage. Bernard has done a good job in making that an advantage for him by taking a weakness and making it an advantage for him. He's low to the ground and because he's so quick he gets under guys easily and pretty much does what he wants. We're excited to have him back."
"You know, you can't get much better than having Jan Jorgensen, Russell Tialavea, Brett Denney and the rest of the guys on the d-line to learn from," Afutiti said. "You know, it's awesome and has been a great experience learning from those guys and the examples they've set."