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Peppers: I share 'craziness' about football with Harbaugh

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jabrill Peppers

Ann Arbor – Jabrill Peppers arrived at Michigan last fall expecting great things of himself. He was a highly-recruited and acclaimed defensive back out of New Jersey and all signs pointed to him making an immediate impact.

But two leg injuries early in the season kept him off the field. Peppers, also expected to be a major contributor to the return game with the added bonus of potentially playing at some point during his career on offense, was given a medical redshirt and is now completely healthy.

Peppers, along with his fellow sophomores, has been working as a "coach" and mentor during Michigan's two-week Youth Impact Program for Detroit inner-city students, and took a break Thursday afternoon at Michigan Stadium to talk about the academic-athletic program and his eagerness to play.

"I'm eager to see myself," Peppers said. "Coming off an injury, I never really had football taken away from me. As excited as people are to see me play, I'm maybe 10,000 times more excited to be able to play, to be out there with my brothers and play and accomplish what I said I'm going to accomplish.

"(Sitting out) was definitely a learning experience for me, but it made me all the more hungry. It opened another drive within me."

He learned plenty last fall and shared many of those lessons with the young participants in the Youth Impact Program, stressing that they all must have a backup to football.

"Football can be taken away," Peppers said. "What are you going to do if you can't play football anymore? That was the main theme. That was the biggest eye-opener for me. I started taking things a lot more seriously -- some things I may have taken for granted that I didn't think I was taking for granted. Now, whenever I get a chance to be out there, whether it's a workout or a practice, I give it my all because like last year, you never know when it's going to be taken away from you."

Peppers was recruited to Michigan by former coach Brady Hoke and his staff. He and the Wolverines have transitioned to new coach Jim Harbaugh, hired late last year after Hoke was fired, and Harbaugh's new staff.

In Harbaugh, Peppers finds a kindred spirit.

"Me and coach Harbaugh, we share similarities with our love and enthusiasm for the game, our drive, our craziness about the game, our competitiveness," Pepper said. "We hit it off right off the bat. He loves a guy that's going to come out and compete and give whatever he has, and I'm that type of guy. Every time I come out on the field, whether it's practice or workout, I just want to give it my all and show everybody and prove to myself that I am who I say I am, and that's one of the hardest-working guys, a guy you can count on to make plays.

"We're feeding off him. We're definitely headed in the right direction. The overall outlook on this team has changed in just these past six months. The sky's really the limit for us. We're a young team -- we have some seniors who are good leaders, but overall we're a pretty young team. It's looking on the up and up for the future."

Receiver Maurice Ways, also working with the program, said the excitement among Michigan fans has been overwhelming.

"When I'm in the public it's, 'How's Jim Harbaugh? How's the team doing?' It's a good excitement. Fans are really excited. Everybody's really excited to see what we do this year. I think it's going to be a good year, we're going to surprise a lot of people."

Ways said Harbaugh's impact on him personally has been positive.

"He makes you want to be better," Ways said, adding that if he can't sleep, he now pores over the playbook. "He challenges you to be great and knows that it's never good enough. He's a good motivator."

Injuries limited Jabrill Peppers to three games last season.

During the camp on Thursday, Peppers was having some fun and heaved a football and 50 yards. He drew a "wow" from a young spectator and someone suggested perhaps he could play quarterback, since it has often been mentioned he could play offense, as well.

Peppers, overhearing the conversation, smiled and looked over, with his index finger to his lips as a "shhhhh."

How good can Peppers be after a year off?

"The work you put in is what you get out," he said. "I work hard. The coaches are always on me to get better. They don't care how many things I do right, just what I do wrong, and I need that. I need to be challenged. I need to be coached hard. I like that, I embrace that.

"I don't know how good I'll be, and I hate the word potential, but I really think great things are going to be in the store for the future."