UNC's Giovani Bernard to enter NFL draft

UNC sophomore tailback Giovani Bernard will forego his final two years of college eligibility and enter the 2013 NFL draft, the school announced on Friday morning. I'll have some more thoughts on this for you in a bit, but here's what the release said:

A native of Boca Raton, Fla., Bernard is draft-eligible because he has been out of high school for three years. He redshirted in 2010 and earned first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors as a freshman in 2011. This season, he repeated as a first-team all-conference selection at running back and was also named to the first team as a specialist.

Bernard led the league in rushing, scoring, all-purpose yards and punt return average. He rushed for 1,228 yards on 184 carries, finishing 11th in the nation with 122.8 yards per game. Despite missing two games, he scored a league-best 19 touchdowns (12 rushing, five receiving, two on punt returns) and averaged 11.4 points per game to rank fifth in the nation. Bernard finished fourth nationally 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,” 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.”

A highly-rated running back out of St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Bernard redshirted in 2010 after tearing his ACL on the third day of preseason practice. He bounced back to have a breakout season in 2011. That year, he rushed for a UNC freshman record 1,253 yards and became the first Tar Heel to run for more than 1,000 yards since 1997. He earned first-team All-ACC honors and was the recipient of the Brian Piccolo Award as the ACC’s most courageous player.