Bernard rushed for 163 yards and a touchdown Saturday to help the Tar Heels beat Maryland 45-38 in their final game of the 2012 season.
The question afterward was whether it was the final game of Bernard’s college career. Unfortunately for anxious UNC fans, the only person who might know for sure was unavailable to answer. Bernard, who had been sick in the days leading up to the game, was too ill to participate in postgame interviews.
UNC coach Larry Fedora told reporters that he planned to meet with Bernard on Sunday at 9 a.m. to begin discussing the star tailback’s future. Bernard, a redshirt sophomore, has two years of eligibility remaining if he decides not to enter the NFL draft.
“In this initial meeting, I’ll talk to him about the process,” Fedora said. “We’re going to gather as much information as we can to help him and his family make a good, educated decision. That’s the thing: it’s their decision. So all I want to do is provide as much information as possible so that he can make a good, educated decision.”
Bernard has plenty to consider. He has put together back-to-back stellar seasons after tearing the anterior cruciate in his right knee in 2010.
Bernard rushed for 1,228 yards in just 10 games in 2012, notching his second consecutive season of at least 1,200 rushing yards. He is the first UNC player to accomplish that feat since Mike Voight in 1975-76.
After racking up 207 yards rushing/receiving/returning against the Terrapins, Bernard finished the year averaging a school-record 198.1 all-purpose yards per game. He also scored 19 touchdowns for the season, the second highest single-season total in school history.
When the Tar Heels needed a big play, Bernard was their man. That was the case against Virginia Tech, when he zoomed 62 yards for a touchdown on fourth and 1. That was the case against N.C. State, when he returned a punt 74 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds remaining. And that was the case Saturday against Maryland, when he had the ball in his hands as the Tar Heels tried to wrap up their senior-day victory.
Bernard rushed six times for 42 yards on UNC’s final drive, robbing Maryland of all of its timeouts and the game clock of all of its time.
He sealed the victory with a vintage run on third and 3 from the Maryland 48. Bernard picked his way into a line of scrimmage stacked with defenders who knew he would have the ball. But, as so often was the case for the last two seasons, knowing wasn’t good enough. Bernard spun to his left away from the mess, breaking away for a 17-yard scamper down the sideline. First down. Game over.
If his college career is over, too, Bernard will depart in 10th place on UNC’s all-time rushing list (2,481 yards). If his college career continues, Bernard will return to much fanfare and hype in preparation for a run at the 2013 Heisman Trophy.
Which way will Bernard run? His coaches and teammates have their preference. But they, like everyone else, will have to wait for him to decide.
“We’re roommates, so I figure to have a good word in his ear,” quarterback Bryn Renner said. “But he’s his own man. Hopefully he comes back. I can’t make the decision for him, but I’d like to have him back, obviously. I’m definitely going to have some conversations, but that’s not my decision. He’s got to do the best for himself.”