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Provo • First, let's get one little detail out of the way before we introduce the other freshman who has made a significant impact on this year's BYU football team.
Running back Francis Bernard enjoys his first name, and not just because it was his paternal great grandfather's name.
"At first, growing up, I kinda tried to deny my name, didn't really like it," he said. "I was like, 'I am brown [of Samoan descent], and my name is Francis.' But now I love it, because you don't see it a lot. A lot of people might try to change their name to Frank, or Frankie, but I'm Francis, and I love it."
And BYU coaches are loving what the freshman who returned from an LDS Church mission to Atlanta last October is doing for the Cougars' injury riddled rushing game. Fellow freshman Tanner Mangum has stolen all the headlines, but Bernard's contribution has been significant as well.
The 6-foot-1, 235-pound hybrid back was unknown to BYU fans last summer. But Jamaal Williams withdrew from school, Algernon Brown hurt his knee against Boise State, Adam Hine suffered an ankle injury against Michigan that has shelved him for a month, and former walk-on Nate Carter has been ineffective.
Enter Bernard, a bit later than he would have hoped, because he suffered a broken hand just days before the opener at Nebraska while running a pass route. His right ring finger got caught on a defender's shorts and the next thing he knew, he had a metacarpal fracture in his hand.
Wearing a soft cast, he got in against the Wolverines when Hine went out, and gained 13 yards on his first carry, finishing with 30 on four attempts.
Since then, even though Brown has returned to the lineup, Bernard rushed for 69 yards on 11 carries against UConn and 30 yards on eight carries against East Carolina.
"It's pretty incredible, but this is what I pictured myself doing back in fall camp," Bernard said. "I switched to a more competitive mindset and went in thinking I could be the No. 1 guy if I worked hard and wasn't satisfied with being anything else. But it is pretty crazy [with the injuries], how it has gone."
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall started marveling at Bernard's abilities back in preseason camp, then was impressed by the freshman's play at Michigan.
"I like him a lot," Mendenhall said. "I think he's tough and physical, and he can block and catch the ball out of the backfield. He's really versatile. His role will increase."
Growing up in the southwest corner of the Salt Lake Valley, Bernard was a "huge Utah fan" and desperately wanted to land an offer from the Utes while excelling at Herriman High, where he was a three-year starter. His older brother, James Bernard, walked on at Utah.
"My head coach, Larry Wilson, was a Utah alum, and he had coached there, and he described everything about the U., and so I really wanted to go there," Bernard said. "But then BYU offered, and my recruitment process with Utah didn't end so well."
Utah State and some smaller schools also offered, but BYU was the only school that said he could play running back rather than linebacker, Bernard said.
BYU running backs coach Mark Atuaia said it was tough luring Bernard away from Utah, but he sold the promising prospect on the Cougars' tradition of using bigger backs such as Harvey Unga, Fahu Tahi, Manase Tonga and Fui Vakapuna.
"I was telling him about all that history and finally convinced him to come," Atuaia said.
So Bernard became the first athlete at Herriman High to earn a Division I college scholarship. He rushed for 3,123 yards and 45 touchdowns in his career at the school that opened in 2010, while also playing basketball and rugby for the Mustangs.
"There is a young guy that's got a lot to build on and his upside is tremendous," said BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae. "On that stage [at Michigan], in that deal, that kid was going hard. That was really good to see out of a young player."
About Francis Bernard
• Freshman returned missionary made his debut against Michigan, rushing four times for 30 yards.
• With starters Adam Hine out and Algie Brown limited, carried the ball 11 times for 69 yards and a touchdown against UConn.
• Had eight carries for 30 yards in Friday's 45-38 win over East Carolina.
• Rushed for 3,123 yards and 45 touchdowns in a three-year starting career at Herriman High School before serving an LDS Church mission in Atlanta.
Cincinnati at BYU
Friday, 6 p.m.
TV • ESPN