St. Thomas Aquinas went 15-1 during Bernard's senior year and finished ranked No. 13 in the nation by USA Today. He gave a verbal commitment to play for Notre Dame, but reconsidered after the Irish fired head coach Charlie Weis and replaced him with Brian Kelly.
Preferring to play in more of a pro-style offense, Bernard committed to Butch Davis and the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Bernard tore his ACL on the third day of fall practice in 2010 and took a redshirt. But he returned in great form in 2011, joining Amos Lawrence (1977) as the only freshman tailbacks in Tar Heels history to earn first-team All-ACC honors after he rushed for a school freshman-record 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns.
He tied for the ACC lead with 14 total touchdowns and was the first Tar Heels tailback to earn first-team All-ACC honors since Curtis Johnson in 1993.
Ironically, when Davis was fired and replaced by Larry Fedora, Bernard found himself in an up-tempo spread offense similar to the one he was concerned about playing in at Notre Dame. However, it proved to be a great fit in 2012 as Bernard led the ACC with an average of 122.8 rushing yards. His season total of 1,228 came in just 10 games as he missed two contests in September with a knee injury.
Bernard's versatility was also on display, as he finished third on the team with 47 receptions and led the ACC with an average of 16.4 yards on punt returns. He was fourth in the nation with an average of 198.1 all-purpose yards per game.
Rather than be a potential Heisman candidate in 2013, Bernard opted to enter the NFL Draft.
"Gio is a special player and an even better person," Fedora said. "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."
Dazzling runner, but size (5-10, 205) and durability are legitimate concerns.
Bernard has elusive moves and makes quick decisions, using terrific peripheral vision with little hesitation. He uses his eyes well to quickly survey the field and set up his moves, finding the hole and creating room for him to run. Bernard has very good patience and feel as a runner, showing the awareness to pick through defenses and get everything out of each touch. He runs with very good pad level, natural leverage and balance to keep his feet and continue to fight forward.
Bernard runs close to the ground and is a tough ballcarrier to square up for defenders due to his smaller stature and active run style. He is able to carry some tacklers with his leg drive and toughness and always seems to be falling forward. Bernard is an effective pass catcher with very good focus and hands to make tough grabs (almost 100 career catches).
He has some return experience on punts with two career special teams touchdowns, including the game-winning score against NC State in 2012.
Bernard has been productive the past two seasons with over 2,500 career rushing yards, the first North Carolina running back to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in back-to-back seasons since Natrone Means (1991-92). He can do it all and be left on the field on any down, in any situation.
Weaknesses: Bernard lacks breakaway speed and can be caught from behind. He doesn't have ideal build and strength for the position, lacking the growth potential to get much bigger.
Bernard needs to stay focused on returns, he botched a return against Virginia in 2012 and the Cavaliers recovered.
He has strong durability concerns, missing two games in 2012 and parts of several other contests with various injuries including to his shoulder and lower body (also tore his ACL in 2010).
Bernard gives good effort in pass protection, but limited due to his size and has room to improve.
Compares To: Besides durability and a smaller-than-ideal frame, it's tough to find negatives to Gio's game. Reminds me a lot of Trent Richardson, just not as powerful or durable. Borderline first-rounder.