Paramus (N.J.) Catholic cornernback Jabrill Peppers won four state championships in high school. (Sam Webb / Special to Detroit News)
Paramus (N.J.) Catholic star Jabrill Peppers turned the page on his prep football career in more ways than one.
Earlier this week, he ended any uncertainty surrounding his recruitment when, on the heels of his official visit to Michigan, he declared, “I’m 100-percent going blue.” A few weeks prior, he ended his reign of high school dominance with his fourth state championship. His decorated resume has prompted some observers to anoint him the Garden State’s best prep player ever.
“That’s a big honor,” said Peppers, a cornerback. “When you’re talking about Jersey football, you’ve got a lot of guys — from Brian Toal, to Brian Cushing, to Will Hill, to Ryan Grant. It is a lot of dudes that came out of there. Just to put my name in that category means a lot. But I always said, ‘Let your numbers talk.’ My numbers speak for themselves. Four championships in four years. I just want people to know by that that I’m just a winner. That’s what it all comes down to.
“I will do whatever I can for my team for us to win the game, (and) that means by any means. It just feels good just to be in the category with that group of guys as one of the best players to ever come from this state. That’s something that lasts a lifetime.”
For evidence of what a difference-maker Peppers is, just look at his impact on Paramus Catholic.
Before transferring to “PC” as a junior, he spent the first two years of his career at perennial national power, Don Bosco Prep. He immediately was a major contributor for the renowned Jersey program and helped it add two more state titles to its already packed trophy case. Then he left all of that established success behind and became a catalyst in propelling a program from the ranks of the also-rans to that of the champions.
“(Paramus Catholic) would make the playoffs, but they would always lose to us (at Don Bosco),” Peppers said. “I remember we played (Paramus Catholic) my freshman year in the first round of the playoffs and we beat them. Then we played them in the second round of the playoffs (the next year) and we beat them. My freshman year, they were 5-6 and then my sophomore year they were 6-5. Then when I transferred, I brought in a lot of guys with me. I started reaching out to other players just to let them know how much different ‘PC’ was. It wasn’t just me — we had a lot of guys come in. We had a few top players, like Marquise Watson and Keyon Washington, so it was not just me that turned that program around. And those guys that were there already had a vision. They just needed a couple of missing puzzles pieces to put it all together.
“We got those puzzle pieces and we did something that has not been done in the state before. We rose to the top as fast as any team ever done it. We got two state championships back-to-back, and nobody can take that away from us.”
Peppers believes a rise just as precipitous is on the horizon for Michigan. His abounding confidence isn’t tethered by the Wolverines’ disappointing 2013 season, and his plan to immediately impact his new team’s fortunes won’t be limited by his status as a newcomer. He always has talked a big game and doesn’t plan on changing trait now. Not when he always has been able to back that talk up, and not when he believes he will be flanked by the type of incoming talent capable of helping quickly vault the Wolverines back into contention.
“This class is it just different,” Peppers said. “I personally don’t think Michigan has had a class like this. We’re just so hungry. We’re all eager for the same thing. We’ll do whatever we need to do to achieve what we need to achieve. I was talking to some of the guys and they are some (tough) dudes. We all share the same thing.
“I think we are going to come in here and we’re going to do great things.”
That’s the kind of rise Charles Woodson spurred when he stepped onto Michigan’s campus almost 20 years ago. Peppers is similar to the former Heisman trophy winner in stature, athleticism and versatility. That’s why many Michigan fans have openly clamored for him to don Woodson’s vaunted No. 2. The Garden State star long has scoffed at the notion because he believed part of establishing his own greatness comes from wearing his own number. But thanks to a little prodding from a future teammate, he recently softened that stance.
“The battle of jersey is an up-and-down process,” Peppers said. “Some days I want to wear No. 5 and some days I want to wear No. 2. Me and (Detroit Country Day receiver and fellow Michigan commit) Maurice Ways have been talking, and he wants to wear the No. 1. I’m like, ‘All right man, if you’re going to wear the No. 1, I’m going to wear the No. 2 and we’re going to do it better than those dudes (that wore those numbers previously) did.’ He was all with it. If I do decide to wear the legendary deuce, I’m just going to try to do everything that uncle Chuck did, and do it better.”
That lofty goal is one that Woodson himself expressed admiration for when told about it last summer.
In order to achieve that, though, Peppers will need to first earn the opportunity to perform in multiple phases of the game. That’s something even he admits will take a little time.
“Coach (Al) Borges and Coach (Fred) Jackson made jokes at me saying, ‘Charles Woodson won the Heisman because he came over and played some offense,’” Peppers said, laughing. “They’re always making jokes. Right now they want me to just focus on the defensive side of the ball and they want me to return both punts and kickoffs. That’s what I’m looking at when I first get up there, but I’m sure that once I show them that I’m capable of understanding the defense, performing well on the defense, and also making plays on punt returns and kick returns — that is when I think they’ll let me cross over and play a little bit of offense.”
In other words he eventually plans to do it all. That means recruiting also.
The gregarious youngster still is actively courting others to come to Michigan with him. His latest target is Sugar Land (Texas) Austin running back Vic Enwere. The California commit was in Ann Arbor for his official visit last weekend and Peppers delivered his first of many pitches.
“You know they call me the commissioner,” he said, laughing. “I was definitely telling him what he can bring to this class and to this Michigan program. He was telling me about why he committed so early and everything like that. I definitely think we have a legitimate shot at him.”
Whether Enwere joins the fold, Peppers insists the future in Ann Arbor is bright.
“I think this year was definitely a learning experience for (Michigan’s younger players),” he said. “I think definitely in the years to come we should cause some havoc.”
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA. His Michigan recruiting column appears weekly at detroitnews.com. For more on U-M recruiting, visit michigan.scout.com.