One-year-old Lennox Bernard someday will learn from his father’s example, just as Devin Lloyd is doing now.
Utah’s two linebackers are right in the middle of the country’s No. 4-ranked defense, and Lloyd and Francis Bernard have answered any questions about how the No. 12 Utes would replace stars Chase Hansen and Cody Barton.
Lloyd’s emergence as a sophomore is the more surprising development, and he credits Bernard’s influence. “He’s always coming in ready to work, always looking for ways to get better,” Lloyd said. “Just the way he’s always looking to improve in every facet of his life — not just on the field, but off the field as well. So I really admire him for that.”
Lennox Bernard’s first birthday last week was a milestone that his parents once wondered if he would reach, and it reminded them of all they’ve experienced before and after his birth. He’s growing and developing, his mother is healthy after her own life was endangered during pregnancy and his father just keeps making tackles.
Bernard’s story is about family and football, just as it was last year at this time — under much different circumstances. He played remarkably well then, amid challenges known only within the Ute program and to those close to him, and he’s doing even more on the field now.
Lloyd leads the team with 50 tackles in seven games; Bernard follows with 48 stops. They would be closer to the 2018 pace of Barton and Hansen, if not for the Utah offense’s controlling the ball so much and the defense’s getting off the field on third-down plays, reducing their workload. The linebackers also have combined for three interceptions, with a touchdown return for each.
“We just make each other better,” Lloyd said.
“The production speaks for itself. … I think we’ve done a terrific job to live up to what we’ve been asked to do, and even a better job in some areas,” Bernard said. “We’ve got to prove to the Pac-12 and to the nation that we are what we said we are, and we love the challenge.”
Nothing is easy about raising a child. Yet is fair to say Bernard's life is more settled than last October, when he spent most of a four-week period sleeping on a couch at University Hospital, while his fiancee was being monitored. And then he visited the Newborn Intensive Care Unit almost daily during the second half of the season.
Bernard married his longtime fiancee, former BYU swimmer Alexis Johnson, earlier this month during Utah’s bye week. Lennox’s birthday was Oct. 17. The extended family’s celebration is scheduled this weekend, when the Utes (6-1) host California, trying to extend a three-game winning streak as they’ve outscored Pac-12 opponents 111-23.
“I'm blessed to be part of a great defense,” Bernard said. “It makes my job very easy; all I've got to do is fill my gap and if the ball comes my way, make a play. … I kind of look at myself as a very balanced linebacker who can stuff a hole in the run, but also I'm not afraid to be in space and cover a slot receiver. I've done it throughout my career and I continue to get better and better, and I'll continue to do it for how ever long I can.”
His role extends beyond merely worrying about himself. “If there's a 'quarterback' on the defensive side of the ball, that's who I am,” Bernard said. “I make every single call; everything kind of filters through the linebacker in order to get everyone in the right spot. If I don't, someone's going to mess up.”
That’s not happening lately, and Lloyd’s play is a welcomed development for Utah. “Devin’s doing a terrific job,” Bernard said, sounding almost like a proud father. “I knew going into the season what he’s capable of doing. Even after this season, he’s going to be capable of so much more. This is just a steppingstone for him.”
CALIFORNIA AT NO. 12 UTAH
When • Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV • FS1.