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University of North Carolina: Running Back University

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Coming out of high school, college football recruits dream of playing at powerhouse programs and eventually moving onto the next level, the National Football League. For some, collegiate football will be the end of their career, but for others it will launch their career to new heights.

Often times athletes are successful due to their raw talent and athleticism, but other times the system they play in and the coaching at their university shape them into future NFL players. In hopes of improving their game and showcasing their talents on the biggest stage, these athletes commit to a school hoping it is the best fit for them.

College recruits may commit to a school based on their winning tradition, family connection, or the potential for adequate playing time. If the ultimate goal is to take the next step to the NFL, shouldn't the athlete commit to a school that will specifically prepare them for a professional career? If so, the University of North Carolina football program should not be overlooked by four and five-star college recruits. The translation of success from college to the NFL has been evident in recent UNC alumni.

Often times, colleges pride themselves on having the best professional athletes at a certain position. For LSU and Miami, it's Wide Receiver U. For Ohio State and Miami, it is Defensive Back University, while for USC and Florida State, it is Quarterback U. For the University of North Carolina, it should be Running Back University.

Out of the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) school, the University of North Carolina trails just one for the most running backs in the National Football League, perennial powerhouse Alabama. The Heels are second in the NCAA with five running backs on active NFL rosters. These UNC alumni include Gio Bernard, Shaun Draughn, Romar Morris, Elijah Hood, and T.J. Logan.

Giovani Bernard joined the UNC football program prior to the 2010 season but suffered a torn ACL in just the third practice of the season. Bernard redshirted during the 2010 season and became the starting running back for the Heels in 2011. The West Palm Beach, Fla. native made an impact right away for the Tar Heels, becoming the first UNC running back since 1984 to record 100 rushing yards in five straight games. Bernard was added to the Maxwell Award watch list in October of 2011 and became the first UNC running back since 1997 to rush for over 1,000 yards. The Tar Heel running back led all freshman backs in yards per game and completed his redshirt freshman campaign with 1,253 rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns.

Despite the changing at the helm for the Tar Heels in 2012, Bernard shined and caught the eye of NFL scouts and GMs. Bernard was third in the country in all-purpose yards per game with 198.1 and led all running backs in this category. He was selected to the All-ACC first team and finished in second place in player of the year voting. Gio’s defining moment for the Heels came on October 27, 2012 as North Carolina hosted North Carolina State. The Wolfpack elected to punt to the All-ACC back and Bernard took the punt 74 yards, leaving NC State virtually no time to answer and giving the Tar Heels the victory.

Bernard declared for the 2013 NFL Draft as a redshirt sophomore, receiving projections ranging from the first to third round. The Cincinnati Bengals selected Bernard in the second round with the 37th overall pick. Bernard has played fours seasons for the Bengals and eclipsed 600 yards in three of his four seasons. In November of 2016, Bernard suffered his second torn ACL and was placed on the injured reserve list. For his career, Bernard has totaled 2,442 rushing yards, 1,671 receiving yards, and 20 touchdowns.

Cincinnati Bengals v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Shaun Draughn, another Tar Heels running back in the NFL, joined the North Carolina football program prior to the 2006 season. Like Bernard, Draughn redshirted in his freshman campaign and was a member of the defensive scout team. In 2007, Draughn saw action in twelve games, playing on the special team units. He transitioned his playing time to the running back position in 2008, rushing for 866 yards and three touchdowns. The redshirt junior campaign for Draughn featured appearances in 10 games, tallying 692 total yards and one touchdown. The Tarboro, N.C. native completed his collegiate career, compiling 637 rushing yards, 142 receiving yards, and six touchdowns.

Draughn was an undrafted free agent out of college, signing with the Washington Redskins in 2011. He was later cut during final roster cuts and signed with the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad. Draughn was promoted to the 53-man roster in December, seeing his first action in the NFL. Since 2011, Draughn has been on an active NFL roster and played for nine different teams. Draughn currently plays for the New York Giants and will compete for playing time during training camp. In his career, he has compiled 723 rushing yards with seven touchdowns, along with 597 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns.

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Similar to other Tar Heels running backs in the NFL, Romar Morris redshirted in his freshman campaign in 2011. Morris made his first collegiate appearance in 2012, finishing his redshirt freshman campaign with 386 rushing yards, 204 receiving yards, and four total touchdowns. In the 2013 season, Morris appeared in 12 games and made five starts for the Tar Heels, compiling 296 rushing yards and five touchdowns. The Salisbury, N.C. native continued his consistent production for the Tar Heels in the backfield, rushing for 278 yards and four touchdowns. Morris’ redshirt senior season saw a decline in playing time and production as the Heels touted the two-headed monster in the backfield with T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood. He compiling 64 rushing yards and one touchdown.

Morris was signed by the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent following the 2015 season. He is currently on their active roster but has yet to see action in the National Football League.

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Half of the two-headed monster for UNC in 2016, T.J. Logan, joined the UNC football program prior to the 2013 season. Logan compiled 533 rushing yards and four touchdowns in his freshman campaign, while returning two punts for touchdowns. The production of Logan was maintained during his sophomore season in 2014, tallying 582 yards and three touchdowns, while returning one punt for a touchdown. Splitting time with Elijah Hood in 2015, Logan’s production remained as he rushed for 400 yards and five touchdowns. The Greensboro, N.C. native saved his best season for last. Despite once again splitting time with Hood in the backfield, Logan compiled 650 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns.

Prior to the 2016 season, Logan was selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. Logan will completed for playing time and look to learn from star running back David Johnson.

The remaining half of North Carolina’s two-headed monster at running back, Elijah Hood, began his collegiate career in 2014 with the Tar Heels. Hood saw action in eight games during his freshman campaign, recording 259 rushing yards and four touchdowns. The Charlotte, N.C. native burst onto the scene in 2015, tallying 1,463 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. Hood’s junior season saw a lack of production due to injury and decreased rushing attempts as he compiled 858 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

Following the 2016 season, Elijah Hood initially stated he would return to North Carolina for his senior season, but later declared for the NFL Draft. Hood was selected in the seventh round by the Oakland Raiders and will look to grow behind future Hall of Famer Marshawn Lynch.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The University of North Carolina football program is on an upward trend with more and more athletes taking the next step to the NFL. All five running backs joined the NFL after playing for coach Larry Fedora, who has brought the program to new heights. While many schools are trademarking nicknames and sayings to entice recruits, it’s time the University of North Carolina receives the credit it deserves for its abundance of running backs in the National Football League