By Christina Rivers
Name: Giovani Bernard – RB – #25
Height: 5′ 9”
Weight: 208 lbs.
Hometown: Davie, Florida
College: North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Giovani Bernard may be one of the lesser known players on the Cincinnati Bengals’ roster this year. Teams passed on him early due to his short height, but the Bengals didn’t let his height overshadow his true talent.
Bernard proved at the NFL Combine that he is constantly in motion, always fighting for extra yards and protecting the ball all the while using his agile quickness to make some incredible cuts up the field.
His ability to get up to speed in a hurry has made him a training camp sensation. Selected as the first running back of the draft ahead of hyped running backs such as Montee Ball and Eddie Lacy, Bengals Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden is keeping a close eye on him to see if he will be able to support their decision to select him in the draft.
Chances are that Bernard and veteran running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis will see plenty of playing time. Bernard’s ability to be a reliable receiver and read when the defense is blitzing the quarterback allowing him to pick up an extra man for a block, will give the Bengals a new weapon in their arsenal.
Bernard is the son of Haitian immigrants and the younger brother of former NFL running back Yvenson Bernard. Bernard competed in high school football at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida––one of the best high school football programs in the entire nation.
Giovani soaked up the attention in high school, competing against the best talent in the nation and racking up amazing statistics. Bernard was ranked by Rivals.com as the 14th best running back in the class of 2010. Highly recruited by numerous teams, Bernard first committed to Notre Dame before reconsidering and then choosing the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
His college career took an unexpected turn on the football team’s third day of practice when Bernard, nicknamed “Gio,” tore his ACL in his right knee. Returning in 2011 as a redshirt freshman, Bernard rushed for 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns on 239 carries and caught 45 receptions for 362 yards and a touchdown.
UNC hired Head Coach Larry Fedora before the 2012 season, Bernard was introduced to a new offense that utilized the no-huddle and shotgun. While Bernard shifted his playing style, he managed 1,228 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 184 carries. In 2012, Bernard also added 47 passes for 490 yards and five touchdowns. Participating with special teams, Bernard ran back 16 punts for 263 yards and two touchdowns.
Many scouts compared Bernard to professional football player DeAngelo Williams at the Combine, but Bernard wants to make a name for himself, and has been throughout training camp.
One of his weaknesses in the past has been his lack of toughness. It’s something that Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict has decided to take upon himself – to strengthen Bernard. Recently, during training camp after Bengals safety George Iloka slammed Bernard down to the ground, Burfict shouted some taunts that prompted Bernard to reply with, “Keep coming. It’s an all-day service, 24-7.”
Expectations are running high for Bernard. The first running back who was drafted this April knows that he needs to outperform every other rookie on the field and not fall behind the shadow of others. Bengals fans can rest easy since he hasn’t let shadows of expectations hold him back in the past.
For more NFL Player features, visit 32 Players, 32 Days.
Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.