Giovani Bernard closes in on 1,000 yards

Before Johnny White’s selection in the fifth round this year, 11 NFL drafts had passed without a single North Carolina running back receiving a call to the big time.

With 35 more yards, Giovani Bernard could help that become a more regular occurrence.

Assuming Bernard maintains his 107.2 yards per game average, the redshirt freshman should reach the 1,000-yard single-season milestone Saturday at North Carolina State’s Carter-Finley Stadium.

And interim coach Everett Withers said he believes Bernard’s success this season could pique the interest of tailback prospects across the nation.

“I think it’s important that kids know that you’ll turn around and you’ll hand it to your tailback twenty some odd times and let him get yards,” Withers said. “I think it’s important any time you’re recruiting.”

Only 14 UNC tailbacks have reached the 1,000-yard milestone in school history, with the last coming in 1997 by Jonathan Linton.

Before White’s selection by the Buffalo Bills in April, Linton was also the last Tar Heel running back to be selected in the NFL draft. Linton was taken in 1998 — a year after the New York Jets selected fellow Tar Heel and 1,000-yard club member Leon Johnson.

Rushing success has come in spurts like that one throughout the course of the football program’s history. While the Tar Heels saw no running backs rush to the NFL in the past decade, in the 1980’s, six North Carolina tailbacks were drafted. In the 1970’s, four.

In that 20-year span, the Tar Heels also featured 18 seasons of 1,000-yard rushers.

This season, Bernard could be reviving a UNC tradition once he adds his name to the ledger.

“I think it’s important. I think it’s part of the Carolina history, the 1,000-yard backs that have come before Gio,” Withers said.

“It’s important to our offense that he get that goal and that he continues to pass a thousand and keep going.”

It could also be important for the Tar Heels in terms of their standing in the national landscape.

Bernard is currently 21st in the NCAA in rushing yards per game, and a 1,000-yard season could cement the legitimacy of UNC’s rushing game and the team as a whole.

“I think that would really show that our football program is making strides in the right direction, that we’re not the same UNC that everyone thought we were,” said wide receiver T.J. Thorpe, Bernard’s roommate.

“Traditionally, we’re a basketball school–and football’s not as strong here–but we’re kind of showing that football is back.”

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