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March 29, 2012

Versatile star Bergeron making a push

North Mesquite coach Mike Robinson has a lot of images of his former star running back Joe Bergeron etched into his mind.

But the one the image from practices that Robinson will always remember involved other players counting the people in line ahead of them to see if they had to go up against Bergeron in "bull in the ring" - a one-on-one blocking/tackling drill.

"He treated any live session in practice as a game session," Robinson said. "If you're going to step up to tackle him, you better step up to tackle him because he was basically in game mode. A lot of kids lost that battle trying to bring him down.

"It got to the point where kids would be in line and count to see if they were going to be up against Joe.

"All of a sudden, they lost that spot. And then sometimes the guy behind them would be like, 'No, you ain't going nowhere.' It was pretty funny.

"We had to make sure the kids going through the tackling drills were physical able to do it when they went up against Joe.

"He'd catch a pass out in the flat and a corner or safety would have to bring him down and I'm not saying they were afraid, but it was a respect thing. Joe forced the other kids on our team to step up their game."

PHYSICAL FOOTBALL: At Texas, it's been a different story. Even though Bergeron averaged 6.4 yards per carry as a freshman (72 carries for 463 yards and 5 touchdowns), he is the one going up against guys like 260-pound linebacker Steve Edmond in "bull in the ring" during spring football.

"Steve is really big," Bergeron smiled. "He's like a train. It's like running into a wall. It's only going to make us better because I don't see us going up against any linebacker that big.

"Steve has taken a huge step forward from where he was before. Everyone talks about his weight, his size and him not being able to move. Steve moves very well.

"To see him move from one spot to outside of our tackles in three steps, and we're trying to run an outside stretch play, and he's right there, I would hate to be on the opposite team.

"As far as going against him in practice, I see good progress in him."

VERSATILE STAR: Robinson said Bergeron was one of the most popular kids at North Mesquite High School. When it was Nerd Day, Bergeron dressed up as a nerd. During one dress-up day at school, Bergeron even dressed up as Madea (Tyler Perry's outrageous female alter ego).

"There wasn't a kid at our school who didn't like Joe because he never flaunted his athletic success in anybody's face," Robinson said.

"Joe is a multi-talented kid. If he ever decided to take up acting, there's no telling how far he would go in Hollywood. He's got those types of skills. He can be as funny and witty as ever and turn around and be just as focused and serious as ever.

"But when it came to the field, he had that schizophrenic nature because when it came to the field, he became totally focused and unrelenting.

"After a game, after he had worked as hard as he could work, he would be dancing and playing. He was the DJ in the locker room. He had the music. But during a game, he ran with bad intentions."

TOUGH LOVE: Robinson gives Bergeron's mother, Cynthia, all the credit for Joe's toughness. Cynthia raised Joe and his older sister, Britney, alone.

"Joe's father was not in the picture," Robinson said. "Cynthia has done a wonderful job with Joe as far as being mother and father.

"Joe was not lazy or spoiled. Joe was not catered to. Joe was not pampered. Cynthia was not one of those moms who was like, 'Oh, you fell down? Come here and let me see.' She was like, 'Oh you fell down? Well, you better get up and go again.'

"She was not one of those, what I call, 'Band-Aid-in-waiting moms.' She was a 'Rub-some-dirt-on-it-and-get-back-out-there' mom.

"She always told him, 'If there's something you want, go out there and earn it.' That's the type of lady she is. I wish we had a bunch of moms like her. She helped us as coaches, because, usually when kids attain that 'superstar' mentality or have the ability to be real good, you usually have to cater to them a little bit. But never with Joe. And I attribute that to his upbringing by Cynthia."

Bergeron laughed when told of Robinson's comments.

"Whenever I would be outside playing and come in crying, she would be like, 'You better suck it up and go back outside and play,'" Bergeron smiled. "It wasn't until like I had a major injury that she said, 'OK, we can deal with that.' But other than that, she told me I had to be tough, if not, she'd just turn her head on me.

"With my mom being a single parent, she had to be that role with me. I think it helped a lot."

STAYING HEALTHY: Bergeron's toughness has never been questioned. But Mack Brown said Bergeron and Malcolm Brown, who both missed time down the stretch of last season, need to stay healthy.

When asked specifically about Bergeron, Brown said one trait of a great back is staying on the field and used Ricky Williams and Cedric Benson as examples.

"Some of it is on us," Bergeron said when asked about Brown's comments. "Some of it you really can't help. Now that it's happened, and we've gotten through it, you know what to do to prepare to keep it from happening next time."

Robinson said the hamstring injury was the first of his football career.

"It was the first time he'd ever been hurt, and it probably won't be the last," Robinson said. "A hamstring injury puts doubt in a kid's mind about pushing himself.

"But I told him, you just can't be apprehensive. If you pull it, you pull it, if you tear it, you tear it, but you can't be timid.

"It was the first time he'd ever been hurt, and I think he handled it well. When he felt it, he didn't try to overdo it."

1-2-3 PUNCH: While some have wondered how Bergeron and Malcolm Brown will handle sharing carries with incoming freshman Johnathan Gray, Bergeron embraces it.

"Instead of a 1-2 punch with me and Malcolm, it's going to be three with Johnathan Gray coming in," Bergeron said. "He (Gray) is going to add on and be a great addition to our backfield because we'll be more versatile and do a lot more things.

"He (Gray) brings speed. He brings power as well as Malcolm (Brown). I think it will be interesting to see what defenses come up with to get ready for all three of us."

SHARING THE LOAD: Bergeron said he doesn't want 30 carries a game like he had in high school. Ironically enough, it was his 29th carry against Texas Tech that resulted in his season-shortening injury. He initially thought it was cramps, but it turned out to be a hamstring pull that lingered.

"I'm not a selfish person," Bergeron said. "I believe in spreading the ball around because it will open up more whenever I do get the ball. I'm trying to shine, just like everyone else is."

This spring, Bergeron and Malcolm Brown have been pushing each other.

"It's not really competing. It's more so just trying to make each other better," Bergeron said. "Whenever he sees me make a good play, he'll make a good play. When I see him make a good play, it fires me up to make a good play as well.

"So I think really we just play off each other."

STAYING IN SHAPE: Bergeron is right at 237 pounds and said it's harder for him to keep weight on than it is to keep weight off.

"My weight is not that much of a problem," he said. "I'll lose weight rather than gain it. I want to stay fast and quick."

Robinson saw Bergeron over spring break and sees a hunger in Bergeron he's never seen before.

"He is going to continue to work hard until football is not the thing sustaining him," Robinson said. "He is going to work hard every day until football is not what he has as his career or career goal."

CARRYING ON TRADITION: Bergeron has taken special note of Ricky Williams returning this weekend to unveil a statue of his likeness in the southwest corner of DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium before Sunday's Spring Game.

Bergeron said he is trying to play football the way Williams did as a blend of power and speed.

"People have done great things and they'll come back and say, 'Oh, it's not like it used to be,'" Bergeron said. "We want to reassure them the tradition is still there, and we're going to carry the load just like he did when he was here."



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