February 5, 2014

SIGNING DAY: Peppers stayed true

Jabrill Peppers could have played college football anywhere he wanted in the nation, from Alabama to USC to Florida and beyond. That he committed to Michigan, and stayed committed, says more than you can read on a stat sheet, his high school coach insists.

Chris Partridge, who guided the 6-1, 210-pound defensive back through his years at Paramus [N.J.] Catholic, understands all of the craziness that comes with college recruiting. When you've got the No. 1 prep defensive back in the nation at your school, and the No. 3 performer in the nation (according to Rivals.com), the insanity gets multiplied.

Peppers committed to Michigan in last May, setting off a tidal wave of celebration among Wolverine fans. But in the months that followed, they saw U-M swimming with sharks in its journey to seeing Peppers' signature on a National Letter of Intent, which came through around 8 a.m. on Wednesday.

The defensive back who's expected to be an immediate difference-maker in the Michigan secondary remained on everyone's radar. When the Wolverines struggled through a difficult season on the field, then made some troubling headlines off it, Peppers didn't lack for those trying to steer him from his initial choice.

Partridge played a key role in trying to contain the madness.

"We handled it very well," he said. "We put everything through me. We were able to block his phone number from some people and make them all go through me, so I could communicate with him. That helped him out a lot."

The explosive, athletic, two-way performer still faced challenges. Phone calls are by no means the only way negative recruiters, fans and others can get through to players these days.

"With Twitter and the social media world and everything going on, of course people were hounding him constantly," Partridge said. "It's unfortunate, with college football. You have a kid commit somewhere and the other fans harass him and badger him.

"He's a 17-year-old kid. You should be happy for him. I understand being a fan and when the game starts, you're in the stands screaming and harassing and getting into it. But when you're putting stuff into the public and you're badgering kids and you have grown men saying negative things to kids who decide where to go to college, I don't agree with all of that stuff."

That Peppers ultimately stiff-armed every attempt to knock him off his appointed destination, Partridge noted, should mean something to those who pack The Big House every home football weekend.

"Jabrill was able to block all of that out and stay committed," Partridge said. "It really speaks to who he is, his loyalty and integrity. Nowadays, you don't see that often. You see all these kids flipping and going back and forth.

"He knew where he wanted to be, and he stuck to it. That's going to motivate him more, and I hope Michigan people can see that, too. He's a true Michigan guy. He's one of their own, through and through.

"He grew up a fan and he stayed committed through everything. He is going to do some special things there."

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