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November 16, 2011North Carolina has found its present and its future at running back this fall, as redshirt freshman Giovani Bernard has shown all the promise and potential that had people raving about him a few years ago when he was at Fort Lauderdale's St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
Against N.C. State on November 5, Bernard became the first UNC running back since Jonathan Linton in 1997 to surpass the 1,000-yard plateau---although after the shutout loss to the Wolfpack, he was in no mood to talk about his excellent individual accomplishment.
Bernard made some pointed remarks about Carolina's overall lack of focus heading into the NCSU showdown, but now that he's had some time to reflect on it, he knows that reaching the 1,000-yard mark is not just an individual accomplishment, but a team one.
He gave credit to his offensive linemen and the rest of his teammates for helping him reach the goal when we spoke to him earlier this week.
"I've heard a lot about it (gaining 1,000 yards) and I think it's just a matter that it's important for this University, and I think it's important in our football team," Bernard said.
"For me individually, I think you're put out on the field to gain yards, and I was blessed enough to be able to gain the thousand yards, but I think it's just a matter of guys coming out every day to work out and get ready for it."
"And the offensive line has done an amazing job this year. That was the difference-maker this year year compared to other years. I think our O-line that we have now is just an amazing O-line," Bernard added.
Switching gears to Thursday night's ACC Coastal Division showdown against Virginia Tech, Bernard believes the extra time off helped the Tar Heels get ready for the Hokies, and he believes the team is going to play much better than they did against NCSU.
"We had a couple of games where we slipped up and we didn't play 'UNC Ball.' I think this game, we've done a great job practicing this entire week, and I think the results may be different," he said.
"This is our 'Monday Night Football,' and I think it's a time to really show what we have as a football team and what we've came through with adversity and things like that. I think it's just a matter of keeping going, and just getting ready for Thursday."
"All these days off, I think it's a time for guys to rebuild and kind of recuperate, and I think that's the main thing that breaks are really for," Bernard added.
It will be the first time that Bernard has ever taken the field at Blacksburg's Lane Stadium, one of the most electric atmospheres in college football---especially during night games---but having played recently in tough road atmospheres such as Clemson and N.C. State, he doesn't think that will factor so much in this particular game.
"It's definitely going to be a wild environment. We went into Clemson, and that was definitely a wild environment. It didn't turn out so well, but I think we have a great focus. Now we're used to the big crowds and things like that," Bernard said.
"I think a game like that (the Clemson game) under our belts, it helps us out against Virginia Tech."
Bernard knows that how he plays is going to be essential to UNC's chances of going to Blacksburg and coming away victorious for the second straight time up there.
Carolina simply must find a way to run the ball if they're to have any realistic chance of beating the Hokies on their home field.
"They're a real big team. They've got their D-line and they've got their safeties. They're a real good team, and I think it's just a matter of us just playing 'our' ball, and doing what we need to do," Bernard said.
"The main thing that Coach Withers always talks about every game, no matter who we're playing, the first thing is run the ball. If we can run the ball against a team, they're going to have to stack up the box and that opens up the pass game."
"I think running the ball and being able to stop the ball is the main thing about this game," Bernard continued. "He (Coach Withers) talks about it for defense. He points over to the defense and he's like, 'We've got to stop the run. That's the main thing.'
With Bernard in the backfield, at least UNC fans know they've got a player capable of making the plays to keep the Tar Heels in it against the Hokies. It's just a matter of whether it can all come together for Bernard and the team as a whole.