UNC RB Giovani Bernard headed to NFL

Giovani Bernard would have provided considerable competition for the Heisman Trophy next season if he hadn’t opted to leave North Carolina for the NFL Draft.

Bernard is that good.

But the 5-foot-10, 205-pound tailback won’t get the chance to compete with Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel now that Bernard has entered his name in the draft, UNC said in a release Friday.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my three years in Chapel Hill and coming to UNC was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Bernard said in the release. “I feel like the best decision me my future is to enter the NFL draft this year.

“I want to thank coach (Larry) Fedora, this coaching staff and the previous coaching staff for putting me in a position to succeed. I am on track to graduate and I plan on coming back to earn my degree in the spring of 2014.”

Bernard has said on several occasions he wants to eventually attend medical school, but while at UNC, he routinely left opponents breathless trying to corral him, which was usually a fruitless venture.

The native of Davie, Fla., didn’t get much national acclaim at North Carolina, in part perhaps because UNC’s NCAA problems overshadowed anything the Tar Heels did on the field. But NFL scouts were paying attention, and there’s a reason Bernard may be the top tailback drafted next April, and it was clearly a factor in his decision.

Injuries, though, had to rank at the top of the list.

Bernard missed his true freshman season after tearing the ACL in his knee on the third day of practice. And this past season, he missed two full games and saw limited action in two others because of more nagging problems.

In fact, Bernard had just 29 rushing attempts through the first five games of the season and barely played in 62-0 and 66-0 wins over Elon and Idaho, respectively, magnifying just how amazing he was when in uniform. It also makes one wonder just how incredible his numbers could have been.

Bernard ran the ball 184 times for 1,228 yards, an average of 6.7 yards per carry, and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 47 passes for 490 yards and five scores. In addition, Bernard returned two punts for touchdowns, including one for 74 yards to beat rival North Carolina State with 13 seconds remaining on the contest.

In essentially eight games, Bernard accounted for 1,981 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns on 247 touches. That’s good for an average of 8.02 yards every time he got his hands on the ball.

“He’s a guy that when a play needs to be made, he wants to be out there,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said about Bernard following the win over N.C. State. “He wants the ball in his hands. I promise you he was one of those kids that was always wanting to take the last-second shot in the backyard. He’s just one of those guys, he wants the ball in his hands.

“He wants the opportunity to make a play. Some people look at that, they get nervous, they get scared because everybody’s looking at me in the situation, not him. That’s when he excels.”

For Bernard, however, that game-changing moment can come at any time. He’s a threat to score from any spot on the field and often has.

But given his recent history with injuries and seeing South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore suffer a severe knee injury this season, something Bernard has spoken openly about, the ultra-fast and shifty athlete knew it was time to essentially cash in before he suffered a similar fate.

Numerous mock NFL Drafts list Bernard as the top available tailback, and most have him either going in the first round or trending that way.

Bernard would have been UNC’s best bet for a Heisman Trophy since Kelvin Bryant in 1981 had he opted to return to Chapel Hill.

Tar Heel fans will now have to cheer on his exploits at the next level.