Dozens of eligible underclassmen have or will announce in the coming weeks that they are leaving early for the NFL, with each carrying various degrees of impact on their respective team’s prospects for the 2013 season.
This one will likely have as big of an impact as any other.
Largely overlooked and undervalued outside of Chapel Hill specifically and the ACC in general over the past two seasons, Giovani Bernard announced that he has decided to leave North Carolina and enter the 2013 NFL draft. The running back, who likely would’ve been included in the preseason Heisman mix, is foregoing his final two years of eligibility to make the leap.
A press conference has been scheduled for 2 p.m. ET today for Bernard to discuss the decision.
“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 in a statement released ahead of the press conference. “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.”
A torn ACL suffered during summer camp cost Bernard all of his true freshman season in 2010, but the redshirt sophomore came back to earn All-ACC first-team honors the past two seasons. He led the conference in rushing, scoring and all-purpose yardage in 2012, and led the nation in punt returns average (16.4 yards per).
He accomplished all of that this season despite missing two games with a left knee issue.
“Gio is a special player and an even better person,” said UNC head coach Larry 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.”
Depending on which direction other players at his position take before the mid-January deadline, the 5-10, 205-pound Bernard could be the first running back selected in the upcoming draft.