Whenever the top runningback in the state is a 3* prospect with offers from BYU, Utah, and Utah State there is certainly going to be interest from fans on where he's going to play college football. CougarNation was able to spend some time with Herriman High School Head Football Coach Larry Wilson to talk about Francis Bernard and his recruitment. With how quiet the recruiting front had been for Francis since he was first offered by BYU the summer after his sophomore year, many BYU fans wondered whether he even still had his scholarship offer from BYU, who has 24 commits from the 2013 class.
"From what I understand, he still has an offer on the table but it's conditional. He's LDS, he's talked about possibly going on a mission, they had a scholarship available for him all the way up until the end of August. They had another runningback on campus (Darrin Laufasa), they had told Francis that they would offer this kid as well as Francis unless Francis committed to them. So the other kid came in and I believe they offered him and I believe he accepted from what I understand. So that changed it to more of a conditional one without having a scholarship immediately available for this next year, that if he went on a mission they would have one available for him as soon as he came back off his mission. And he clearly understood that, so unless there is a scholarship that gets freed up at BYU or if a kid backs out on a verbal or whatever I would think that right now there is not a scholarship available for him for next year."
The conditional offer has become much more appealing for LDS prospects interested in attending BYU now that commits are able to serve a mission right out of high school, without having to wait until they turn 19. Does Coach Wilson think that will help Francis decide to commit to BYU despite his offer becoming a conditional offer? "Sure, I think the biggest decision for him is if he's really going to go on a mission. I think he's vascilating on that, and he's a little bit conflicted right now on the fact that he feels really strongly that he needs to go on a mission, but he also has such a great love for the game and he wants to keep playing, he doesn't really want to take that two year break. So he's kind of going back and forth and wrestling with that right now and he hasn't made a definitive decision one way or another."
What opportunities does he have that he's deciding between? "He has an offer from Utah State and a conditional offer from Utah with going on a mission as well. Our season just concluded and we just started talking this week with all of our senior kids and meeting with them one on one and so forth. I think he kind of is just looking at the best opportunity that he has, I think he would like to stay in state, but I don't think that's the number one criteria. I know there's been some dialogue with Oregon State, especially last spring and during the summer. He was going to go to their camp, but didn't go to their camp which probably hurt him a little bit, but there has been the typical correspondence still going on whether they're going to be actively recruiting him or not at this point I don't know. I think with Francis he just is looking where he feels the best opportunity is, I think he would be happy at any of the three schools. He likes the coaching staff at all three schools, all three schools are uniquely different, what Gary has done at Utah State has certainly turned some heads, I think they have become a very viable option for a lot of kids. With Utah being in the Pac 12, BYU with the independent schedule and the ESPN deal, all are three very attractive programs. So I think he is just going to see exactly where the offers are and were he feels his best opportunity is, I think a big factor for him has to be what he's going to do next year, and then kind of go from there but I would say right now they're all three pretty equal."
If he decides not to go on a mission then Utah State would logically become the clear favorite. "I think he's probably more intrigued by Utah State. He had a great visit up there during the summer and went to a couple days of camp and really liked it, he really likes Gary and the staff. With them just continually getting better and better, I think part of being in a program on the rise has a lot of intrigue to him because we're a brand new high school and we've accomplished a tremendous amount in three short seasons. And he's been an intregal part of that, and he has loved that, it has been very rewarding for him. I think he parallels that a little bit with Utah State and the fact that here's a program on the rise and to be a part of building something has a draw to him, but to say that is where he's leaning right now, boy I don't know. I don't have that feel from him yet because I think he's more concerned about what he's going to do next year than what school he would go to if he decides to play football. And he knows he has to figure that out, and with the strong pull of his faith, you know his religion, I think that's much more on his mind than if he does go to school next year, exactly where he'll go to school. I think that's secondary right now.
Would it then be a recruiting battle between BYU and Utah if he does decide to go on a mission? "I would not take Utah State out of the mix even if he does go on a mission. Gary is a Utah guy and he's been around the program, he's been very involved with the missionary program in sending kids out and getting them back and knowing how to count them in your numbers. If Francis did decide to go on a mission I know that Gary would be very aggressive in wanting to still recruit him and have him offered. If he doesn't go on a mission I think that BYU and Utah right now are both long shots, just because of the scholarship situation, which by default would probably put Utah State at the fore front. He may get some other offers and he may still get recruited by some other schools during the next couple of months, I would say as it stands right now just because of the mission situation and how these conditional offers are I would say that Utah State would certainly by default be at the front."
So what is Francis' number one consideration in selecting where he plays college football? "I know that academics are extremely important to him. Francis is a good student, he's about a 3.74-3.75 student, and he certainly recognizes the importance of academics as well as the opportunities that it certainly brings for him. He's not one of those kids that you have to worry about coming out of high school trying to convince that academics are important, he clearly gets that. He's spent quite a bit of time researching academics and he's a litle undecided major wise right now, but he's looking at possibly getting into business, possibly even pre-law and so forth, so he's pretty academic oriented and academic minded right now. All three schools have some very strong academic programs, for what he wants to do he wouldn't make a bad choice from that stand point.
BYU's nationally ranked business school certainly wouldn't hurt their chances of landing Francis should he decide to serve a mission, neither would their high quality pre-law program and law school. What is his second priority in selecting a school? "Probably second to that is football, football is very important to him. In a program he's looking for team atmosphere, environment, relationship between coaches and players, similar to what he had in highschool. He's the kind of kid that wants to be part of something bigger than himself. He wants to work hard, he has a great work ethic, and he wants to be in a program that is hard working yet it is enjoyable. I think he feels comfortable with talking to all the different coaches and players from all three of those schools, and I think those are the two primary things that he's looking for, he doesn't care much about social, he's not a social guy, he's pretty much a school and football kid."
There's not a much better combination for succeeding in college athletics than the values that Francis Bernard upholds. He sounds to me like a player who would thrive in BYU's program under Bronco Mendenhall. "He obviously has the God-given talent, it will be interesting to see where he ends up in College. I could see him playing a variety of different positions. He's made a lot of his noteriety at running back, although he was banged up quite a bit this year. He had a shoulder injury and we had to protect him quite bit, we moved him from corner to free safety to try to get him out of the run game as much. He's a kid that could have started at linebacker for us, he's a hair over 6-foot-1 and he's about 212-pounds right now. Very well built, works hard in the weight room. It depends on where he goes and what they're looking at him for, he could be a tremendous slot receiver. He runs phenominal routes, he has some of the best hands, this is my 40th year of coaching and I've been at the college and high school level and he has tremendous hands. He would have huge upside at slot receiver, especially in spread offenses where they get the ball in that guy's hands in open space in a lot of different ways and they involve him in the run game coming from the outside on fly series and stuff like that. I'm not so sure that's not where he would excel, if I was in college recruiting him I would recruit him as a slot receiver in a spread offense. That's probably not what he's known for, he's known as an I-tailback, and for his vision defensively, I think he's a strong safety or free safety in college, I don't think he has the flat out speed to play corner."
It must be tempting for him to go to Utah State, with Kerwynn Williams graduating Francis might have a shot to get some playing time as a true freshman in a system similar to what Coach Wilson just described. "I think with what Utah State is doing up there I think that would be a great fit for him, I'm not sure which side of the ball they're recruiting him on. I think one of the other factors too is that his best friend is our quarterback, Tueni Lupeamanu, who's been offered by the same schools. I think there's a little bit of these two guys trying to figure out if they want to go to school together. They've been best of friends since elementary school and they both started as sophomores for us, and both have just been phenominal players and kind of received equal noteriety and received equal recruiting opportunities. I think there's kind of a little bit of a feeling that they'd like to go to school together, I'm not sure that's an overriding factor but it certainly belongs in the conversation."
So where is Tueni leaning? Is his offer from BYU also conditional? "His is now conditional as well, he's being recruited by everybody on the defesnive side. He either is a linebacker or hybrid end kind of a guy. He actually got up to 263 and we had to get him down to about 245 to play QB. We worked really hard with him during the summer, he put on the college freshman 20 pounds during his senior year in highschool. We had to work really hard and he spent a lot of extra time working with our strength and conditioning guy and got his weight back down to a much more managable weight for a quarterback. He could have played defensive end hybrid spot or outside rush-drop linebacker at 260 because he moved well enough to play there, but for what we do offensively we needed him to get down a little bit. He had a great senior year though.
"I think he's a lot like Francis except I don't think he's going to be a mission kid. I think Tueni's pretty set on continuing with football, which I think is maybe playing a little bit into Francis' thinking as well. Tueni said 'I can always a serve a mission at any time in my life.' And I think he wants to continue with football rtight now, he's had interest from Stanford, I'm not sure he's going to have the test scores to get into Stanford. Stanford has been out twice to see him and visit with him and so forth, no offer yet, but certainly serious enough that they sent out Dave Kotulsky the linebacker coach the second time and he spent a couple of days here, and they had him down for camp during the summer. Stanford's a unique situation where you've got to qualify a little bit differently than some of these other schools. I think his GPA is going to be right on the borderline, he's a 3.75-3.8 kid, I just don't think he's going to have high enough test scores to get in but I don't know how they work either down there. I know this, he said that if he got offered by Stanford from the academic standpoint alone it would be a no brainer. I would say right now, that somewhat by default Utah State has got to be at the fore front. He's had some interest from Boise State, a little bit from Oregon but nothing that you would consider solid enough that you could say 'I have a good chance of being offered by these guys.' I think they're showing interest, but not to the point that they have him high on the recruiting board.
The Stanford Cardinal only have eight commits on the books so far from the 2013 class, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that they could still extend an offer. What are the chances that Stanford does extend an offer this late in the game? "I don't know, I haven't talked to Kotul during the season, Dave Kotulsky their linebacker coach and I coached together at the University of Utah and I've known Dave since the mid-eighty's. We're certainly going to have those conversations coming up in the next week or so, I'll reach out and contact him back, with having a personal relationship with Kotul I know he'll be straight up with me and tell me exactly what they're thinking with Tueni."
Where Francis Bernard ends up is anybody's guess. It really will depend on whether or not he does decide to serve a mission. If he does, there's actually not a ton of competition as of right now waiting for him at BYU when he gets back from his mission. 3* runningbacks Algernon Brown (#50 RB in the country) and AJ Moore (#57 RB in the country) are both from the 2010 class and will both be back from their missions before fall camp in 2013. No runningbacks committed in 2011, Jamaal Williams was the lone runningback commit in 2012, and 2013 RB commit Darrin Laufasa is not LDS. Francis could find himself in a very favorable situation as the primary back his junior and senior year if he decides to serve an LDS mission and become a BYU Cougar.
Follow me on Twitter: @lancewarchibald
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