After two spectacular seasons which included one of the most legendary punt returns in UNC history, Giovani Bernard will enter his name into the NFL draft.
UNC made the announcement Friday morning with quotes from Bernard and head coach Larry Fedora.
"I thoroughly enjoyed my three years in Chapel Hill and coming to UNC was one of the best decisions I've ever made," said Bernard. "I feel like the best decision for my future is to enter the NFL draft this year. I want to thank Coach 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."
The nation's top punt returner, Bernard averaged 16.4 yards per return and scored two touchdowns. He had a memorable 74-yard punt return touchdown to win the NC State game and snap the Wolfpack's five-game winning streak in the series. He was named the national player of the week for his performance against NC State.
"Gio is a special player and an even better person," said Fedora. "He flourished in our offense and was an outstanding leader for our program. After the season was over, we helped him gather as much information as possible so he and his family could make the best decision for his future. We support his decision and wish him nothing but success as he takes the next step in his football career. He is a tremendous ambassador for this program."
Bernard is one of those players(like Kendall Marshall) who we were in awe of watching him play and saddened a little as fans it was only for two years. Bernard had that "wow" capability from his ridiculous speed to his video game spin moves which often left you rewinding the DVR to see it again and again. His numbers in two years time were outstanding. As a redshirt freshman he ran for 1253 yards which is a freshman season record. He followed that up this season with 1228 yards and an ACC best 122.8 yard per game in only 10 contests. A sprained knee kept him out of two games but when he returned he was electric putting up 262 yards in a win over Virginia Tech and 177 yards to beat Miami in Coral Gables. However, it was that afternoon against NC State that took Bernard from one in a long line of good UNC running backs to legendary status when this happened.
Not only did Bernard have 301 all-purpose yards in this game but prior to the punt Roy Smith was on the field to return the kick. Bernard had injured his foot earlier in the game and was taken off of punt returns but came on to see if he could make something happen. A great wall by his blockers and his incredible speed combined for one of the iconic moments in recent Kenan Stadium history.
As for the decision to leave now, it is absolutely the right move and should surprise no one. Given the shelf life of the average running back, Bernard should go get paid now while all of his ligaments are intact. Besides, he has already missed one season with a torn ACL and two games in 2012 with a sprain to the other knee. There have also been other nagging injuries so no one should begrudge Bernard for going to get his while his stock is high and he is injury free. Yes, as fans we would love a third season of Bernard who would undoubtedly have Heisman buzz around him. Alas it was just not meant to be.
Best of luck to Bernard as he moves on. By all accounts his demeanor and character off the field matches his skills on it and he will be a great representative of UNC as he moves to the next level.