University of North Carolina Tar Heels running back Giovani Bernard has decided to forego his final two seasons of eligibility, opting rather to declare himself eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft. He is just a sophomore, but is three years removed from high school, having taken a medical redshirt during his freshman year in Chapel Hill after tearing his ACL in just his third practice with the school.
Bernard led the country in average return yards in the punting game, but was also a standout in the UNC backfield. In 2012, Bernard carried the ball 184 times for 1,228 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 47 passes for 490 yards and five more touchdowns.
As of now, Bernard, who averaged over 122 rushing yards per game this season for the bowl ineligible Tar Heels due to NCAA sanctions, is not projected as an automatic first round pick, despite the fact that he finished 11th in the nation is rushing yards per game in 2012.
Bernard led the league in rushing, scoring, all-purpose yards and punt return average, despite the fact that he missed two games this past season. He also finished fourth in the nation with a single-season school record 198.1 all-purpose yards per game.
“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 a prepared statement. “I feel like the best decision for 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.”
During his brief two year career as the Tar Heels’ starting running back and one season as the top punt returner, Bernard carried the ball 423 times for 2,481 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns. He added another 92 receptions for 852 yards and six more scores, and also returned 16 punts for 263 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Due to his injury history, as well as his performance both on and off the field, Bernard was awarded the Brian Piccolo Award as the most courageous player in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
First round pick or not come this April, Bernard will likely make an impact for some NFL team as soon as next season.