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Michigan's Jabrill Peppers named Big Ten Freshman of the Year

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan's do-everything Jabrill Peppers is the Big Ten's Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year.

The award was announced Monday night during a release of the conference defensive player of the year award on the Big Ten Network. The offensive players will be announced Tuesday.

Peppers, a redshirt freshman, started every game this season at safety, and also returned kicks and punts, but during the second half of the season, he was used on offense, as well. He finished the Wolverines' 9-3 regular season with 72 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and eight catches for 79 yards.

He also had 45 tackles and 10 pass breakups, while returning 17 punts for a 19.4 average and eight kickoffs for a 27.9 average. Peppers had 417 total return yards.

He joined teammate Jourdan Lewis, a cornerback who set Michigan's single-season record with 21 pass breakups, on the Big Ten's first-team All-Defense teams voted on by coaches and media. Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun was also named as the first-team All Defense squad.

It is unclear going forward if Peppers will remain a three-way player or if he will move to offense. Last week during the Big Ten conference call, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, a day after praising Peppers as a running back, said it is "realistic" to think he could become a primarily offensive play.

"He's such a good player," Harbaugh said during the conference call. "I can think of five different positions he'd be really good at in football. Could someone be the Willie Mays of football? Could somebody be the five-tool player, the five-position player? Maybe it will end up being Jabrill Peppers.

"Maybe we'll find his absolute best position as you go along, but it's interesting to think about and consider the possibilities. You've seen him this year, he's played corner he's played nickel, he's played safety, he's been a running back, he's been a quarterback, he's been a slot receiver, a wide receiver, he's been a punt return and a kick returner, eight positions right there."

Peppers had his first offensive snaps against Michigan State, the seventh game of the season.

He said last week before the Ohio State game he appreciated Harbaugh's commentary on his ability as a running back.

"Whatever's best for the team, that's my approach to it," Peppers said. "That's a great compliment coming from him. I just try to use my vision, use the blocks, use the scheme and let my instincts take over."

Peppers was asked if he could pick one position he'd most want to play.

"I can't answer that," he said.

He said he doesn't over-complicate his workload, all eight positions Harbaugh listed, by not overthinking.

"They alluded to using me in various ways but as far as many positions, I think of it as offensive skill positions and defensive skill positions," Peppers said. "Those are the only positions I know, whether it's running back or slot, they're all basically the same all in their own kind of way. I just think of it as offensive skill guy, defensive skill guy and special teams skill guy. That's how I look at it."

If Harbaugh decides Peppers is best utilized in three phases, that's fine with Peppers. He said he absolutely can handle the workload.

"I'm down for whatever helps the team," he said.

Peppers has often been compared to Charles Woodson, Michigan's Heisman Trophy winner who helped lead the Wolverines to an unbeaten season and national championship in 1997. Woodson was a cornerback who also played offense and special teams.

"He's fun to watch. He's doing it all," Woodson told The Detroit News last Friday. "People ask me about similarities between us, and I always feel like they're talking about style of play. When I think that, I think, 'Do they move like a certain player?' In that respect, we're totally different, two different styles, two different body types. But wanting to contribute in any way you can, on offense, defense, special teams and having the mindset that, 'I want to win ball games, put me where you need me coach,' that's where we're similar."

Woodson occasionally sends Peppers text messages.

"The games I've been able to watch, I'll see certain things and send him a text let him know I'm watching them and keeping tabs," Woodson said.

INDIVIDUAL AWARDS 

(Offensive awards will be announced Tuesday night.)

Dungy-Thompson Humanitarian Award: John Shinsky, Michigan State

Ford-Kinnick Leadership Award: Brian Griese, Michigan

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year: Carl Nassib, Penn State

Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year: Jabrill Peppers, Michigan

Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year: Joey Bosa, Ohio State

Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year: Joe Schobert, Wisconsin

Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year: Desmond King, Iowa

Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year: Griffin Oakes, Indiana

Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year: Sam Foltz, Nebraska

Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year: William Likely, Maryland

COACHES ALL-BIG TEN DEFENSE

First Team

DL - Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland

DL - Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State

DL - Joey Bosa, Ohio State

DL - Carl Nassib, Penn State.

LB - Anthony Walker Jr., Northwestern

LB - Joshua Perry, Ohio State

LB - Joe Schobert, Wisconsin.

DB - Desmond King, Iowa

DB - William Likely, Maryland

DB - Jourdan Lewis, Michigan

DB - Jabrill Peppers, Michigan

Second Team

DL - Malik McDowell, Michigan State

DL - Maliek Collins, Nebraska

DL - Dean Lowry, Northwestern

DL - Adolphus Washington, Ohio State.

LB - Josey Jewell, Iowa

LB - Darron Lee, Ohio State

LB - Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State.

DB - Nick VanHoose, Northwestern

DB - Vonn Bell, Ohio State

DB - Michael Caputo, Wisconsin

DB - Eli Apple, Ohio State.

Third Team

DL - Nate Meier, Iowa

DL - Chris Wormley, Michigan

DL - Austin Johnson, Penn State

DL - Anthony Zettel, Penn State

LB - Riley Bullough, Michigan State

LB - Darien Harris, Michigan State

LB - Vince Biegel, Wisconsin

DB - Jordan Lomax, Iowa

DB - Demetrious Cox, Michigan State

DB - Eric Murray, Minnesota

DB - Matthew Harris, Northwestern.

Special Teams

First Team

PK - Griffin Oakes, Indiana.

Punter - Sam Foltz, Nebraska.

Return specialist - William Likely, Maryland.

Second Team

PK - Marshall Koehn, Iowa.

Punter - Cameron Johnston, Ohio State.

Return specialist - Jabrill Peppers, Michigan.

Third Team

PK - Ryan Santoso, Minnesota.

Punter - Peter Mortell, Minnesota.

Return specialist - Janarion Grant, Rutgers.

MEDIA ALL-BIG TEN DEFENSE

First Team

DL -Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland

DL - Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State

DL - Joey Bosa, Ohio State

DL Carl Nassib, Penn State

LB - Anthony Walker Jr., Northwestern

LB - Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State

LB - Joe Schobert, Wisconsin

DB - Desmond King, Iowa

DB - Jourdan Lewis, Michigan

DB - Jabrill Peppers, Michigan

DB - Vonn Bell, Ohio State.

Second Team

DL - Malik McDowell, Michigan State

DL - Dean Lowry, Northwestern

DL - Adolphus Washington, Ohio State

DL - Austin Johnson, Penn State

LB - Josey Jewell, Iowa

LB - Riley Bullough, Michigan State

LB - Joshua Perry, Ohio State

DB - Clayton Fejedelem, Illinois

DB - William Likely, Maryland

DB - Nick VanHoose, Northwestern

DB - Michael Caputo, Wisconsin.

Third Team

DL - Nate Meier, Iowa

DL - Maliek Collins, Nebraska

DL - Deonte Gibson, Northwestern

DL - Anthony Zettel, Penn State

LB - Darron Lee, Ohio State

LB - Steve Longa, Rutgers

LB - Vince Biegel, Wisconsin

DB - Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Minnesota

DB - Eric Murray, Minnesota

DB - Nate Gerry, Nebraska

DB - Matthew Harris, Northwestern

Special Teams

First Team

PK - Griffin Oakes, Indiana

Punter - Sam Foltz, Nebraska

Return specialist - William Likely, Maryland

Second Team

PK - Drew Brown, Nebraska

Punter - Cameron Johnston, Ohio State

Return specialist - Janarion Grant, Rutgers

Third Team

PK - Kenny Allen, Michigan

Punter - Peter Mortell, Minnesota

Return specialist - Solomon Vault, Northwestern