Giovani Bernard, the North Carolina freshman running back who recovered from a serious knee injury to run for 1,222 yards, has been named the recipient of the ACC’s Brian Piccolo Award, the league announced on Friday. The award has been given annually since 1972 to a player who succeeded despite adversity.
Bernard missed all of the 2010 season after tearing his ACL in North Carolina’s third preseason practice. After a year of rehabilitation, Bernard returned to become the nation’s leading freshman running back. His 1,222 rushing yards ranked third in the ACC, and also rank third among freshmen in league history.
Here’s more, courtesy the ACC:
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.
Earlier this year, Bernard 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.