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Dec. 2, 2011
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) - North Carolina redshirt freshman tailback Giovani Bernard (Davie, Fla.), who rebounded from a severe knee injury to become the nation’s leading freshmen rusher, has been named the recipient of the 2011 Brian Piccolo Award, Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford announced Friday.
The Piccolo Award has been given annually since 1972 in memory of the late Brian Piccolo to the "most courageous" football player in the ACC. Piccolo was the ACC Athlete of the Year in 1965 and played for the Chicago Bears before his career was cut short when he was stricken with cancer. His courageous fight against that disease was an inspiration to the Bears and the entire football community.
Bernard suffered a severe knee injury, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament on the third day of pre-season practice prior to the start of the 2010 football season which forced him to miss all of last year. After a year of rehabilitation, Bernard returned to lead North Carolina in rushing this year with 1,222 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. He ranks 3rd in the ACC in rushing and has more rushing yards than any other freshman nationally. With still one game remaining in his season, his yardage total is the 3rd-best by an ACC freshman.
Earlier this year, he became the first Tar Heel football player since 1984 to record five consecutive games with 100 or more yards in rushing and has topped the 100-yard mark seven times this year. He was named ACC Rookie of the Week three times this year: on October 3 for rushing for 146 yards and a TD against East Carolina; on Oct. 31 for rushing for 154 yards and 2 TDs against Wake Forest; and this past week for rushing for 165 yards and a touchdown in UNC’s 37-21 win over Duke.
Coincidentally, Bernard played his prep football at the same high school as Piccolo. A running back who led the nation in rushing in 1965 with 1,044 yards, Piccolo played at Central Catholic High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Central Catholic was the predecessor for St. Thomas Aquinas High School, which is where Bernard played.
"Giovani is a special person and is a deserving recipient of this prestigious award,” said North Carolina head coach Everett Withers. “ I know he was disappointed he could not play last year after tearing ligaments in his knee on the third day of practice. However, he was relentless with his rehabilitation, never complained and came back stronger than ever. That's the type of person he is. He came back in 2011 and had an incredible season for us."
Bernard is the fifth North Carolina student-athlete to be honored with the Picccolo Award, joining former teammate Robert Quinn, who received the award in 2008, Danny Burmeister (1985), Jim Webster (1971) and Paul Miller (1970), as past Tar Heel honorees.