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Utah linebacker Francis Bernard moving through pre-NFL Draft uncertainty amidst COVID-19 cancelations

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes linebacker Francis Bernard (13) celebrates a tackle as the Utah Utes host the Washington State Cougars, NCAA football at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday Sept. 28, 2019.

As part of an unprecedented day for the sports landscape in the United States on Thursday, the Pac-12 not only canceled the remainder of its men’s basketball conference tournament, but all sports and championship events.

In accordance with the Pac-12’s edict, the University of Utah announced less than three hours later that “all scheduled University of Utah athletics competitions—conference or non-conference, home or away—have been canceled, effective immediately, until further notice.”

On Friday afternoon, Utan announced it was canceling the remainder of spring practice, which began on March 2 and was slated to resume on Tuesday when students returned from spring break. Also Friday, the NFL announced that school and facility visits involving NFL Draft prospects are indefinitely banned. That effectively eliminates pro days, including Utah’s pro day, which had been scheduled for March 26.

This radically alters the pre-draft process. Instead of in-person evaluations, teams can conduct phone or video conferences, but no more than three per week with an individual and each call cannot exceed one hour.

In the case of spring practice, it is important to remember that classes are going online starting Monday, so bringing football players back for practice would have likely been a no-go anyway. Furthermore, Utah Governor Gary Herbert announced Thursday that for at least the next two weeks, mass gatherings of groups in the state should be limited to no more than 100 healthy people.

Before the NFL stepped in on pro days and made up everyone’s mind for them, those represented more of a gray area. The showcase for Utah’s NFL-bound prospects did not fall within any Pac-12 mandate for cancelation, and it did not include current Utah student-athletes. Still, with the American sports scene barren, cancelation was the only reasonable course of action.

“It makes sense because you’d have 32 teams flying in and you don’t want all those people to get together in one place," former All-Pac-12 Utah linebacker Francis Bernard told The Salt Lake Tribune Thursday morning from his training base in San Diego, in between the Pac-12 and Utah announcements. "My agent and I have been discussing maybe doing a private workout. It would be easy to get a Chargers scout in there, take the information or the results and spread it to other teams.”

Even if the NFL did not act, and Utah decided it wanted to move forward with pro day later this month, NFL teams spent Thursday’s day-long wave of postponements and cancelations shutting down travel for coaches and scouts until further notice.

Bernard’s point about a private workout at some point in the six weeks before the NFL Draft is valid, but someone in his position could have benefit from working out in front of a wider audience.

One of a program-record nine Utes invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, Bernard tweaked his hamstring before the 40-yard dash. He tried to push through it, but wound up running a 4.81 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. That mark stood as the sixth-slowest among the 30 linebackers who ran the 40 at the Combine.

“I’m not a 4.8 guy,” Bernard said. “I hurt my hamstring during the jumps before the 40, but I was in the moment and felt like running. I thought I could ride the adrenaline, but I unfortunately didn’t. I’m looking forward to really showing what I can do.”

For now, Bernard, like everyone else, is in a holding pattern with COVID-19 a factor in all facets of everyday life.

“It’s insane what’s going on right now,” Bernard said. “I’m just trying to wash my hands as frequently as possible, making sure anyone who touches my son (17-month-old Lennox), they wash their hands beforehand. My wife has been good about that, making sure people are doing that. You just never know, you have to be more aware than usual.”

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