UNC TB Bernard entering NFL draft as sophomore

North Carolina tailback Gio Bernard is eager to make his early

jump to the NFL.

The sophomore announced Friday he would enter next spring’s

draft after a big year in which he ranked among the nation’s top

rushers and punt returners to earn All-America honors.

”I didn’t want to base my projections or where I was (in mock

drafts),” Bernard said during a news conference. ”I think it was

moreso that I wanted to move on to the next step in life and

fulfill a dream.”

The 5-foot-10, 205-pound tailback led the Atlantic Coast

Conference in rushing, scoring, all-purpose yards and punt-return

average. He was a first-team all-ACC selection the past two years,

and was a third-team All-American by The Associated Press earlier

this week.

A native of Boca Raton, Fla., Bernard is draft-eligible because

he has been out of high school for three seasons. He missed the

2010 season with a knee injury and also missed almost three full

games this year with another knee injury, but said fear of another

injury wasn’t a major factor in his decision.

”It didn’t really weigh that much,” Bernard said. ”As a

football player, you take risks. Playing the game is a risk in

itself. Those things happen. You don’t really have control of those

things. … Those are things that you can’t really think about it.

You just have to go into it with an open mind and just play the


Bernard said he planned to come back to earn his degree in

spring 2014.

Bernard entered the season with questions about how he would fit

in new coach Larry Fedora’s spread offense. But he ran for 1,228

yards and 12 touchdowns, ranked 11th nationally by averaging 122.8

yards per game and led the country by averaging 16.4 yards per punt


He scored a league-best 19 touchdowns, including two on punt

returns. That included a 74-yard return for the go-ahead touchdown

with 13 seconds left to beat North Carolina State 43-35 in October,

snapping a five-year losing streak in the rivalry.

”We’ve always prided ourselves on being balanced,” Fedora

said. ”I just knew that I was excited about the opportunity of

having a player of his caliber. At the time, I really didn’t know

how good Gio was because I hadn’t seen him on film.

”I don’t like to make decisions on guys when they’re in shorts.

But in the first two days of spring ball, we were in shorts and I

knew right then how special he was and what he was going to be in

the offense.”

Bernard tore his right anterior cruciate ligament on his third

day of preseason practice in 2010, but returned a year later to run

for a UNC freshman record 1,253 yards while becoming the first Tar

Heel to run for more than 1,000 yards since 1997.

Bernard leaves UNC with 2,481 yards rushing in two seasons, good

for 10th in the school record book.

”I don’t want to say it’s not about money because it’s a

business and he’s going to be making a living and that plays a part

in it,” Fedora said. ”But I think for him, it’s more about

fulfilling a dream. … I dreamed about it as a kid. I didn’t go

very far, but he has this opportunity and I’m ready to live through

him in this opportunity.”