Tudor: UNC's Bernard right to take the money and run to NFL

ctudor@newsobserver.comDecember 15, 2012 

As much of a blast as it would have been to watch Gio Bernard play football at North Carolina for two more seasons, he’s making the right move by turning pro after his third season in school.

The redshirt sophomore running back already has missed one season as the result of a serious knee injury and had to sit out two games in 2012.

It’s purely conjecture but given four full healthy seasons, the 5-foot-10, 210-pounder could have left as the best running back in ACC history. Even with the injuries, missed games and missing chunks of playing time against Elon and N.C. State, he still rushed for 1,228 yards this season.

Hampered by a twisted ankle in the game against the Wolfpack, Bernard put himself in the lineup for a late-game punt return and went 74 yards for one of the most memorable touchdowns in Kenan Stadium history.

But running backs often pay an expensive price for their yardage in college. With 12-game regular-season schedules, league championship games and postseason bowls, college players can be on the field almost as much as NFLers.

And although Bernard made dozens of defenders miss, it’s rare that running backs don’t take at least one direct hit from bigger, stronger linemen and linebackers on each carry. Then there are the blocking demands. Bernard didn’t take plays off whether he had the ball or not.

Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer, who has coached more than his fair share of stars, said of Bernard, “He does something to help his team win every play he’s out there.”

On the same high school team with Wisconsin’s James White at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Bernard picked UNC over several offers from SEC schools and said he never regretted it.

“I based my college choice on more than just the football program,” Bernard said after returning from knee surgery in 2010.

But after rushing for 163 yards and the game-winning touchdown in his final college game – a 45-38 win over Maryland in Chapel Hill on Nov. 24 – it was time for Bernard to put football first.

To have returned for 2013 and maybe 2014 would have been too risky. One more knee injury could have equated to a multimillion-dollar mistake. And with Bernard, you can bet he’ll be back in Chapel Hill during the off-seasons to finish up academically.

So take the money and run and run and run, Gio. You were a treat to watch and a class act to cover.

Tudor: 919-829-8946

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