College Football: Bernard helps Tar Heel running game

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 5, 2011

Associated Press
CHAPEL HILL ó Giovani Bernard waited a year for his chance to run the football for North Carolina after suffering a knee injury in one of his first practices. The redshirt freshman is off to a strong start, and that gives the Tar Heels plenty of reason to feel good about their ground attack.
Bernard ran for 64 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries in the easy opening win against James Madison. But the most impressive thing about Bernardís performance was the way he ran the football: with good burst, shifty moves to wiggle free of tacklers and the patience to let his blocks develop in front of him.
ěI think he just has an instinctive nature about him to do that,î coach Everett Withers said Monday. ëHeís one of those runners that can set up blocks. Heís going to get more than you think heís going to get sometimes because he is patient.î
Heading into this weekendís game against Rutgers, Bernard is listed behind fifth-year senior Ryan Houston at tailback. But if the Tar Heels use a similar rotation, Bernard will see plenty of snaps.
While Bernard listed at 5 feet, 10 inches on the roster, Bernard jokes that heís really closer to 5-81/2 ó ěYou canít forget the half,î he quipped ó and about 200 pounds. Then again, he sees the benefits of being low to the ground when heís carrying the football, such as during a preseason drill when he ran behind 6-7, 345-pound offensive lineman Travis Bond.
ěI think (linebacker Zach Brown) said after practice, ëI had no clue where you went. You were too low,íî Bernard said. ěItís a great thing to have great blockers in front of me, big guys that can really protect me. I make my read off of them.î
Bernard had a rough start here, tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament on his third day of preseason practice when his knee buckled during a 1-on-1 drill. He fought through the days when he awoke with stiffness in the knee following surgery.
But while the 19-year-old native of Davie, Fla., described the past year as ějust a terrible time in my life,î Bernard has been through worse. He lost his mother, Josette, to thyroid cancer when he was 10. He has her name tattooed on the inside of his left wrist and wears a tattoo on his chest reading, ěShe lives in me.î
He also writes her initials on his cleats and a glove for each game.
ěSheís like another fullback to me almost,î Bernard said. ěSheís always leading the way for me.î