Two years ago, Joey Bernardini didn’t hear a lot of positive comments about his abilities as a running back on Community School of Davidson’s fledgling football team.
“After my freshman year, a lot of people said I was a horrible running back,” Bernardini said. “I was getting my (behind) kicked all the time, so it was understandable.”
Nowadays, Bernardini is hearing nothing but praise, thanks to the record-setting stats he’s put up during the Spartans’ 3-1 start.
Heading into the Sept. 18 game against three-time N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II state champ Davidson Day, Bernardini leads all Mecklenburg County rushers – at public or private schools – with 776 yards and 14 touchdowns.
According to high school athletics website MaxPreps.com, that puts Bernardini fifth among North Carolina’s top high school rushers and ties him for the state lead in rushing TDs with Southern Guilford senior Reggie Gallaspy.
“It’s really nice to prove everyone wrong,” Bernardini, now a junior, said. “The amount of time I put in during the offseason, working out and getting better, I expected to see results.”
Part of Bernardini’s improvement comes from his daily workout regimen, which includes a two-hour CrossFit session every day before school. That helped Bernardini bulk up from 155 pounds as a freshman to his current 180 pounds.
“I try to never be outworked by anyone,” Bernardini said. “That’s something I just don’t let happen. If someone says, ‘I’m going to go work out,’ then I’ll go work out with them, but I’ll do it 30 minutes longer.
“Besides, I want to play college football, and that’s obviously the best of the best. So you’ve got to train like the best of the best if you want to get there.”
CSD coach T.J. Albert said Bernardini made his biggest improvement in what he called “game smarts.”
“He studies a lot of film, and he’s extremely coachable,” said Albert, the Spartans’ coach since the program began in 2012. “Plus, if you tell him something, you only have to tell him one time.
“What I really like is that there’ll be times in a game when he’ll miss a cut, and look over to me like he’s saying ‘Yeah, I missed it.’ It’s pretty neat to see the maturation in his game intelligence over the years.”
The numbers over the past two years bear that out – going from 500 yards rushing as a freshman to 1,127 yards and 10 touchdowns last year – but this season, Bernardini has put up some record-breaking stats.
Bernardini set a Mecklenburg County record by scoring seven rushing touchdowns in an Aug. 29 win over Forsyth Country Day. The record had been six TDs, first set in 2000 by Providence’s Brian Jacksin and tied four times since then.
He also set a school record with a 33-carry, 312-yard effort in that game, the 19th-best rushing game in Mecklenburg County history.
“And he had two (touchdowns) called back because of penalties,” Albert said. “It’s incredible the strides he’s made. This year, game in and game out, he’s been a workhorse.”
While Bernardini’s name hasn’t popped up among college recruiters yet, Albert expects that to change by season’s end, if not sooner.
That’s fine with Bernardini, who still hears from a few doubters.
“People tell me, ‘Oh, you’ll never play Division I; you’re a Division II or (Division) III type player,’” Bernardini said. “I’m like, ‘Well, screw that. I’m going to play at the highest level, and it’s not going to be any other way.’
“I’ll work as hard as I can, and I won’t let that not happen. I want to prove everybody wrong.”