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Do-Everything Bernard Wants Ball in His Hands

Posted Apr 24, 2013

At the University of North Carolina, Gio Bernard excelled as a running back, pass catcher and punt returner. He hopes to translate those skills to the NFL.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard doesn't care how he gets it -- he just wants the ball.

"Whether as a kick returner, punt returner, whatever it is, you want to have the ball in your hands," he said at the NFL Scouting Combine.

When he got the ball at the University of North Carolina, Bernard capitalized.

Following his standout sophomore campaign in 2012, Bernard was named first-team All-ACC for the second consecutive season -- and the ACC Player of the Year by CBSSports.com -- as well as a third-team All-American.

One of 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, Bernard ranked first in the nation in punt return average, fourth in all-purpose yards, fifth in scoring and 11th in rushing.

In his career, he scored 33 touchdowns in just 23 games. That included 12 rushing, five receiving and two punt-return scores in 2012.

"The biggest thing for me is being able to do everything," Bernard said. "You don't want to limit yourself to just being able to run the ball or catch the ball. You want to be able to do everything, from run-blocking to pass-blocking to running the ball, catching the ball, punt returning, kick returning. You want to be able to be that guy. It's just a matter of having the opportunity to get on the field. And the more you can do, the more opportunities you're going to have."

Those opportunities increased in all three of Bernard's seasons at Carolina. The running back tore his ACL on the third day of fall practice as a true freshman, causing him to redshirt the 2010 campaign.

But in 2011, he became just the second back in UNC history to earn first-team All-ACC honors as a freshman.

By the time his career as a Tar Heel came to a close, he was the first North Carolina player with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons since Natrone Means in 1991-92.

His 19 touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore tied for the second-most in a single season in UNC history.

"Versatility, my physical strength and my patience," Bernard said of his three best traits. "You've got to be physical as a running back, being patient as well. You've got to be able to set up your blocks and what not, and being versatile."

With so much versatility, it makes sense that Bernard was hesitant to compare himself to any one NFL running back.

"I try not replicate my game after one guy," he said. "Darren Sproles, he's a quick guy. He's able to be shifty. I try to take that and add that to my own game. You've got a guy like Adrian Peterson, a hard-nosed running back that's going to churn out the yards. I try to add that to my game. You've got Ray Rice out the backfield catching the ball.

"You really try to be that versatile player that teams need you to be."