January 8, 2014

Borton's Blog: Peppered with praise

The flood of commendation coming out of the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game for Michigan five-start commit Jabrill Peppers isn't a shocker. He's been intercepting notice for a while now.

The attention will only increase, the nearer the explosive defensive back out of Paramus, N.J., comes to actually pulling on a Michigan jersey. That jersey could potentially bear the number "2," worn by a pretty decent DB at Michigan from 1995-97.

That No. 2 has even weighed in on Peppers, and the expectations accompanying prep anointing. When you're not officially on the roster yet and Charles Woodson is commenting on you, you've achieved something.

First, though, a peek at what many others are saying, from the Under Armour game and beyond…

Rivals.com: "Peppers continued his assault on the Team Nitro receivers. The Michigan commit is one of the fastest players on the defense and drives on the ball with such great explosiveness. Peppers is also extremely physical. He drove hard on the ball and made sure the receivers felt his presence when they caught the ball."

Rivals.com's Mike Farrell, in assigning Peppers his Athletic Achievement award for the week: "Who's showed off the best athleticism of anyone else? That's who wins this award and the winner is Peppers, who showed off his ability in both practice and in the game at cornerback, wildcat quarterback and as a return man. Peppers can do it all and while the results in the game weren't what he would have liked aside from a big return, he was clearly the dynamic athlete I expected to see this week."

ESPN.com: "He just gets it. Easily adjusts and adapts to what is asked of him. Very coachable and humble, but he knows he is good. Michigan does not have a skilled player on its team like him. I know it is easy to make the Charles Woodson comparisons here, but let's allow the kid to make a name for himself by carving out his own niche.

"He is more than capable of playing both ways if needed, but as far as cover corners go, he is a more explosive version of Dee Milliner, and we love that he welcomes contact too. He is mature and knows that there are high expectations for him to perform."

Blog post from ESPN.com: "In the past nine classes, we are not quite sure we have seen a skilled athlete on defense like Peppers. He is as naturally gifted and explosive of an athlete as we can recall and he could play five positions. He might be the one player here that just about every other player has noticed."

Former NFL coach Herm Edwards, in a GoBlueWolverine.com video: "Special young man. Mentally tough guy, has great transition speed, can get out of cuts and breaks, competitive, team guy, too. Has a lot of humility. He has fun practicing and is a little bit of a talker, which I like. I get it. I played the position. He's going to have an excellent college career."

And so on…

Talk about a set up. Woodson himself might have had trouble living up to all of that chatter as a true freshman. But when The Michigan Daily got in touch with the former Heisman Trophy winner regarding Peppers, he basically urged the soon-to-be Wolverine to not shy from greatness or great expectations.

"I don't think he should dampen the expectations, but he should embrace the expectations," Woodson said. "From everything I have read about Jabrill, he is a very confident player, and you bring that confidence to the next level. It's good to have expectations, and I see him coming in ready to perform and live up to what everyone thinks."

Confident? That's fair to say. Peppers hasn't been reticent to bring the No. 2 talk to the table himself, on more than one occasion.

"When people say 'Michigan,' I want them to say Jabrill Peppers, then Charles Woodson," he offered. "I'm trying to be better than the best."

When the Daily asked if he thought he could serious operate in that stratosphere, Peppers refused to give an inch, just like on the football field.

"Absolutely," he said. "I want to be the best player to ever wear that maize and blue."

Nobody can accuse him of not setting the bar high enough. At the same time, it's probably wise for those who have seen a host of five-star recruits come and go to tap the brakes a bit.

Some five-stars are brilliant. Some are busts. Some fall in-between, playing a role on a team although never attaining the stardom bequeathed prematurely with such certainty.

For Peppers' sake, he should be given some time to get in, fit in, figure out the next stage and make a few mistakes along the way. Woodson certainly did all of that.

Everyone remembers Woodson's two clutch interceptions to help seal Michigan's 31-23 victory over Ohio State in 1995. Few recall just weeks earlier, when he got picked on a bit and barely missed an interception in East Lansing, in Michigan State's 28-25 win.

Everyone remembers Woodson in his eight-interception, pass-catching, punt-returning Heisman glory of 1997. Few remember that he had some serious steps to take before he ever got there.

A hundred land mines dot the path from prep stardom to the Downtown Athletic Club. Woodson deftly dodged them all. He is - like all who have risen to the top - the exception in a great sea of hopefuls.

From injury to academic adjustment, from homesickness to humbling on the biggest stages and in the greatest venues, there are more than enough blockers to clip an assault on greatness. Peppers knows he has a chance, though, and he's not backing down.

Under Brady Hoke, Woodson knows he'll have a great chance to blossom.

"Coach Hoke is a guy that truly and genuinely cares about the players," Woodson said. "He will treat him like a young man and allow him to grow naturally. He will allow the assistant coaches to coach him up and develop him into the player he can be."

All of what he can be remains to be seen. And for diehard recruiting followers, not to mention Michigan fans aching for a spark and hopeful signs, Peppers represents a touchstone.

It's best to keep the expectations under control. At the same time, those surrounding Peppers, and the young man himself, certainly aren't doing so.

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