Harbaugh: Jabrill Peppers deserves Heisman Trophy

Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers runs for an apparent touchdown in the first quarter. The play was called back due to penalty.

Piscataway, N.J. — Jabrill Peppers is the best player in the country.

So says Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.

Peppers, a primarily defensive player who also returns kicks, scored two touchdowns in a 78-0 rout of Rutgers on Saturday night, and he also had a 63-yard run in the first quarter to give the Wolverines a spark after a sluggish start.

“Gosh, if there’s a better player in the country, I don’t know who it is,” Harbaugh said after the game. “I know there’s a lot of great players out there, but to be able to coach a guy like Jabrill Peppers is a real joy. There’s just so much more. He can throw. There’s nothing he can’t do. It’s the darndest thing I’ve ever seen.

“My humble opinion, I believe that (you’re looking) at a Heisman Trophy winner.”

Harbaugh was asked if he has coached someone as versatile as Peppers, a New Jersey native who played before a home crowd at Rutgers.

“No, not even close,” Harbaugh said. “A lot of great players and I hate to compare because somebody gets diminished. If there’s a Bible sitting right here, I’d put my hand on it and say, ‘No, I have not coached a more versatile player than Jabrill Peppers.’ ”

Later, Harbaugh came up with legendary Jim Thorpe as a comparison.

Peppers said he had a little bit of extra motivation playing in New Jersey. He said it was the first time since high school that many of his friends and family got a chance to see him play.

“Whenever you get a chance to get the ball in your hands, you want to make something positive,” said Peppers, who also made a spectacular punt return for a touchdown that was called back because of a penalty. “God had his hand on me today. Some of those plays, I can’t really describe it. I have to give it all to the blocking, the coaching scheme — they set the guys up in positions to excel.”

His teammates marvel at Peppers, who has 442 all-purpose yards and a punt return for a touchdown and has been making more appearances on offense so far this season. Michigan is 6-0, 3-0 in the Big Ten and returns to action in two weeks against Illinois.

“I was actually thinking while I was the receiver and he did that play where the running back went the wrong way, and he turned and he wasn’t there, so he took off, as he was running, I was like, ‘This kid looks like a guy I created in NCAA football on my Xbox,’ ” Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight said, referring to Pepper’s 63-yard gain.

“To have a guy not only this good at football and you hear him talking right now, it’s not just for the cameras, it’s behind closed doors. He’s a great teammate”

The season is half over, and the Michigan players side with their coach on the subject of Peppers.

“He’s the best player in all of college football,” right tackle Erik Magnuson said. “The versatility alone is just unbelievable. The impressive part is he really doesn’t practice that much with the offense, but you give him ball in the game and he makes plays. He’s the best player I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s so fast and so explosive he can turn a little hole into a 50-yard gain.”

Peppers’ uniqueness frequently is singled out by this teammates.

“Jabrill is something that’s rare. You’ve never seen it before,” said fullback Khalid Hill, who had three touchdowns against Rutgers. “The stuff he does, he can literally come to the offensive side and produce the way that he does and go to defense and do the same thing and do it at a high level is amazing. He’s also in on all returns. It’s crazy.”

Heisman Trophy voters typically are dazzled by gaudy offensive numbers. Harbaugh said he thinks Peppers is playing enough offense, and also mentioned what a strong arm he has, suggesting Peppers will throw at some point. He also entered the game fifth nationally in tackles for loss with a 1.9 average.

“The Heisman Trophy is for the best player in college football,” Harbaugh said. “He’s the best player in college football.”