Bernard leaving for the NFL Draft

The redshirt sophomore will forgo his last two years of eligibility.

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Tailback Giovani Bernard carries the ball in Saturday’s win against N.C. State. Bernard finished with three touchdowns and 304 all-purpose yards.

It’s official. After a standout sophomore season at North Carolina, tailback Giovani Bernard will forgo his last two years of eligibility and enter the NFL draft.

For Bernard, it wasn’t necessarily the prospect of a high draft pick, but the chance to live out a life-long goal that ultimately persuaded him to make the jump to the NFL.

“It’s more so that I want to move on to my next step in life and fulfill a dream I’ve had since I was a little kid,” Bernard said. “Projections are one thing, but fulfilling a dream is really the biggest thing for me.”

Bernard redshirted his freshman season after tearing an ACL on the third day of practice, but since stepping back on the field two years ago, he’s exploded as a dynamic threat for the Tar Heels.

After playing his redshirt freshman season as a running back, Bernard filled an even bigger role this year, doubling as a tailback and a punt returner. He led the ACC in rushing, scoring, all-purpose yards and punt return average.

He earned a spot on the first team All-ACC roster his redshirt freshman year and was a selection again this season, this time as both a running back and a specialist.

Though many will remember his game-winning 74-yard punt return touchdown against N.C. State as the highlight of his career, Bernard says that there are two plays that mean even more to him — his first and second career carries in the 2011 season-opener against James Madison.

“The first carry was 10 yards and the second carry was a touchdown,” Bernard said. “That was really the first time that I really felt that emotional after scoring or after running the ball.

“Ever since then, it’s really been something that I try to engrave in myself. Never take a down for granted, never take an opportunity for granted and really never take a touchdown for granted.”

Though he missed two early-season games with a knee injury, Bernard was one of the most successful Tar Heels this season, not only earning All-ACC honors for the second straight year, but also the runner-up for ACC Player of the Year. He was named third-team AP All-America at running back.

Bernard will conclude his UNC career as one of the most electrifying players to don a Tar Heel jersey. This season, he set the single-season record of 198.1 all-purpose yards per game and led the nation in punt-return average.

He might be leaving the football program to try his chances in the NFL, but Bernard said that he still plans on getting his degree from UNC.

“You come to school to get a degree,” Bernard said. “You don’t come to school just to play football. We’re obviously student athletes here. Student definitely comes first. I’m on track to graduate.

“It’s something that I want to do ,and it’s another dream that I want to fulfill. But opportunities like this don’t come by too often, so I’m going to kind of forgo the student part, but obviously I’m going to come back and get that degree.”

Though his absence will leave a void on the team, coach Larry Fedora is excited to see who will step up to fill Bernard’s shoes.

“This team will miss him,” Fedora said. “We’ll miss his leadership, his ability on the football field too — all of it. We’ll miss him as a person and what he brings to this football team — the drive, the competitiveness, the work ethic. It’s exciting also that we have the opportunity for somebody else to step up and become the guy and the face of this program.”

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