OSU tailback has one game left in career full of accomplishments
CORVALLIS -Yvenson Bernard is no doctor, but he is quick to offer a prognosis for the condition of his surgically repaired knee at kickoff Dec. 28 at the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco.
'Oh, I'll be 100 percent,' says Oregon State's senior tailback. 'If I'm not ready by then, something's wrong.'
Bernard practiced this week - in a red noncontact jersey, of course - and 'he's all pumped up,' coach Mike Riley says. 'He looks fine.'
The Nov. 19 arthroscope procedure kept Bernard out of the Dec. 1 Civil War. His presence next week will be a boost to the Beavers (8-4), who can close out the season with seven wins in their final eight games by beating Maryland.
What a career it has been for the 5-9, 205-pound Boca Raton, Fla., native. All-time at OSU, he ranks second behind Ken Simonton in rushing yards (3,685), third in rushing touchdowns (37) and is tied for ninth in receptions (118).
Bernard has had 18 100-yard games and is one of six Pac-10 players with three 1,000-yard seasons, joining Simonton, Southern Cal's Anthony Davis and Charles White, Cal's Russell White and Washington's Napoleon Kaufman.
With 140 yards against Maryland, Bernard would move ahead of Arizona's Trung Canidate, UCLA's Gaston Green and SC's Davis and Ricky Bell into sixth place on the Pac-10 career rushing yardage list.
'And if we'd been smart, he'd have more yards, because he should have played more his freshman year,' Riley says. 'Even so, Ev has had one of the all-time careers for a running back in the Pac-10. To achieve that kind of consistency in this league is a major accomplishment.'
Bernard is not one to get caught up in such things.
'It's awesome to be mentioned with those names,' he says. 'But I still have one more game left. I'm not really worried about that top-10 stuff.'
Injuries hampered season
Despite missing two and a half games this season, Bernard finished third in rushing in the Pac-10 with 1,037 yards, rushed for 12 TDs and caught 36 passes. How did he feel about his season?
'Not very good,' he says. 'Too much time missed with injuries. I didn't get to practice much the second half of the season and didn't feel that sharp. I was happy with our season teamwise, but I didn't think I did anything that good.'
A first-team all-Pac-10 choice as a junior, Bernard was named to the second team this fall behind the league's top two rushers, Cal's Justin Forsett and Oregon's Jonathan Stewart.
'That's what I deserved,' Bernard says. 'Those guys deserved it more than me. They rushed for more yards.'
Bernard's modesty doesn't surprise those who know him.
'He does a great job of leading by example,' middle linebacker Alan Darlin says. 'He's the kind of guy who always does the right thing. Works hard, perseveres through injuries, plays hurt. He's a well-liked guy, a fun guy, and a guy you can count on to give his all no matter what.'
Bernard follows in the footsteps of two great Oregon State tailbacks of the past decade, Simonton and Steven Jackson, who also rank among the top 11 ground-gainers in Pac-10 history. Riley, who coached all three, begs off comparisons.
'Oh boy, I don't even want to go there,' Riley says. 'They are three pretty amazing runners. Trying to pick the best of them is splitting hairs.'
But Riley is expansive in his praise for Bernard, whom he considers one of the toughest players he's had in more than three decades of coaching.
'Ev has great instincts,' Riley says. 'He has vision and a feel for the creases. He'll take the weak side of a tackler and use it - a guy who has to reach for him won't stop him, because he's so strong. And he has extraordinary quickness. He can change directions unbelievably well. He can shake a guy and make him miss, or he can run right over him. That's a lethal combination.'
Simonton, who ranks second on the Pac-10 list with a school-record 5,044 yards, was 5-8, 190. Jackson, who gained 3,625 yards in his three-year career at OSU, was 6-3, 230.
'Sizewise and stylewise, Ev is more comparable to Kenny,' Riley says. 'They both were extremely tough and quick, both outstanding receivers and extremely good pass protectors.
'A really big positive for Ev is the part he can play in the passing game - catching the ball, protecting the quarterback, having an awareness about the blitz. He's kind of a garbage man back there, very good at picking up a rusher free on a stunt, and he has a great feel for the check-down spots where he can catch the ball.
'Steven was a different kind of player. His sheer power and speed made him the kind of runner where if he had a little bit of room, he could take it and suddenly, he's gone. He could find a hole, but he could really hit the corner and keep going. And he was so strong, he would run over people, too.'
Bernard turned down offers from North Carolina State, Indiana, Kansas State and South Florida, among other schools, to join close friend Sabby Piscitelli - now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - at Oregon State, then coached by Dennis Erickson.
'Sabby was an influence, and so was the opportunity to play early in my career in a one-back offense,' Bernard says.
Erickson left for the San Francisco 49ers a few days after Bernard signed his letter of intent, 'but it all worked out for the best,' Bernard says. 'Coach Riley was a great coach for me. I love his offense and playing for him. He's taught me a lot about football and a lot about life.'
When Bernard looks back at his OSU career, two things stand out.
A highlight was the Washington game this season, when his father, Yven, and brother, Giovanni, watched him play for the first time in his college career as he rushed for 149 yards in leading the Beavers to victory at Reser Stadium.
'It was so fun to perform in front of my family and have a decent night,' he says. 'I was freaking out about not playing well in front of my dad. That was one of the most nerve-racking games of my life.'
He helped bring run back
Jackson departed in 2003, and the Oregon State rushing game suffered in 2004 while Bernard mostly watched from the sidelines, gaining 20 yards on six carries as a redshirt freshman. Once he sprang onto the scene as a sophomore, the run was back.
'That's one thing I do take pride in,' Bernard says. 'There was so much talk about how bad our run game was when I started. My thought was, 'There's an opportunity here for me.' We proved something these last three years, that Oregon State does have a run game. I'm glad I had a part in that.'
Bernard's goal for the Emerald Bowl is simple: 'I just want to play a good game, come back solid and look like me. That's it. And help the team win, obviously.'
Oregon State vs. Maryland
Sixth Emerald Bowl: Oregon State (8-4, 6-3 Pac-10) vs. Maryland (6-6, 3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), 5:30 p.m. Dec. 28, AT and T Park, San Francisco
Radio, TV: KPAM (860 AM), ESPN
• OSU coaches will maintain communication with Robert Golden, the prep cornerback from Fresno, Calif., who told them Sunday during his recruiting visit to Corvallis he would play for the Beavers. Golden reneged two days later, telling news sources he will attend Arizona.
The Beavers have a pair of cornerback prospects set for a visit to Corvallis in January - Anthony Dye of Corona, Calif., and Keynan Parker of Vancouver, British Columbia. Dye is wavering on his verbal to UCLA; Parker was the province AAA offensive player of the year with 1,282 yards and 15 TDs as a tailback. He runs a 10.6 100 and is the son of former Canadian Football League standout James Parker.
The Beavers also are recruiting Randy July, an athletic receiver from Muskogee, Okla.
• Oregon State signed one junior college player Wednesday - Steven Paea, a 6-2, 290-pound defensive tackle from Snow College in West Valley City, Utah. Paea is eligible to enroll winter term.
Three other JC prospects - Vil Nau, a 6-6, 330-pound offensive tackle from Mt. San Antonio (Walnut, Calif.), and 6-1, 230-pound H-back Jeremy Francis and 6-2, 295-pound offensive guard Brent McNeil, both from El Camino College (Torrance, Calif.) - will submit letters at some point but aren't expected until at least spring term.
The Beavers have 10 verbal commitments for Feb. 6 signing day and hope to land five more - preferably two receivers, a punter, a linebacker and a defensive lineman. Among the possibilities are two JC players - defensive linemen Tevita Finau of Phoenix (Ariz.) and Simi Kuli of El Camino, the latter ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 1 JC player in the country.
Prep prospects include receivers Allante Battle of Phoenix and A.J. Pickens of Chino Hills, Calif., and linebacker Paipai Falemalu of Kahuku, Hawaii. Battle has not committed to Arizona State, despite published reports. Two other prospects from Hawaii - offensive guard Benji Kemoeatu and defensive tackle Solomon Koehler - could sign but may not qualify academically.
It's now likely that one of OSU's verbals - Jovan Stevenson, a 5-11, 195-pound running back from Tucson, Ariz. - will grayshirt and enroll in school next winter term.
• More recruiting: Paea has three years of eligibility at OSU. … Nau spent five years of his childhood living in Albany. He is no relation to OSU defensive tackle Sioeli Nau, who redshirted after transferring from Snow College last year. … West Salem High receiver Jordan Bishop remains high on OSU's recruiting list, though the Beavers haven't yet offered a scholarship.
• Sean Canfield will be available for duty at the Emerald Bowl, if needed. The sophomore quarterback, who missed the last three games with a shoulder injury, has participated in practice this week. 'He's made every throw in practice that he needs to make in a game,' OSU coach Mike Riley says.
Lyle Moevao, who led the Beavers to wins in their final three regular-season games, will start at QB and go the route if he plays well.
• Oregon State has a number of players in postseason all-star games, including kicker Alexis Serna and offensive lineman Roy Schuening in the Senior Bowl. Schuening also is ticketed for the Hula Bowl (where Riley is the head coach of the West), along with tailback Yvenson Bernard, defensive end Jeff Van Orsow and special-teams player Gerard Lawson. Center Kyle DeVan will play in the East-West Shrine Game.
Riley is still hopeful to get at least one linebacker - either Joey LaRocque, Derrick Doggett or Alan Darlin - in the East-West Game.
'And it's a crime (defensive end) Dorian Smith isn't in one of the games,' Riley says.
- Kerry Eggers