No players had a larger impact on last Saturday’s game than Jabrill Peppers.
The Michigan safety/linebacker/kick returner/running back dazzled fans in attendance at Michigan Stadium and a national television audience leading the Wolverines to a 45-28 victory over Colorado.
His performance launched him into contention for the Heisman Trophy and bagged him dual Big Ten player of week honors for special teams and defense.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has seen his share of great football players described Peppers as “special” during his Monday press conference.
“…I can’t think of another player like Jabrill. I know there’s not another player I’ve coached like him. The unique thing is all the positions– if you start counting them, it’d be safety, it’d be corner, it’d be nickel, it would be outside linebacker, it would be slot receiver, it would be wildcat quarterback, running back, kick returner, punt returner, gunner, hold-up. That’s 11 or 12 right there, and I know there’s others he could do and do well, but those are all the things he’s done already here for us…and that being said, he’s done them all well.”
But Peppers’ most important contribution to Michigan football may have come from not playing.
Flashback to his first season in Ann Arbor. Peppers came to Ann Arbor in 2014 as the center piece of Brady Hoke’s ultimately final recruiting class– one of most highly sought after recruits in the country.
He was compared Michigan great Charles Woodson and expected to be an impact player in every phase of the moment he showed up on campus.
Brady Hoke admitted that Peppers was in the mix to play more than offense– and seeing him play this season it’s not hard to imagine the impact he could have made as a true freshman.
But early season injuries derailed what might have been the difference for Hoke.
Peppers played in three games before being shut down for the season.
Michigan staggered to a 5-7 finish, embroiled in drama on and off the field that caused interim athletic director Jim Hackett to dismiss Hoke after the disappointing season.
To the surprise of many fans Hackett struggled with the decision.
“This was not an easy decision. Everywhere I go, there is zero question about Brady’s values…Brady’s peers, both active and retired coaches, really respect him. His players love playing for him. He’s done a great job of molding these young men and focusing them on success in the classroom and in the community.
“One could make the argument that we have a very young team and that we’re about to pivot next year into being an extraordinary team. It’s about making sure, then, that Brady has received adequate time to exhibit that arc of improvement that would come from his effort. And I believe Brady had enough time to produce results. And they’re just not there today.”
Hackett shocked the national media by convincing Jim Harbaugh to return to Ann Arbor and it’s been a whirlwind of national hype since.
Hoke, exiled to Oregon can look back at his former team and see that his recruits are leading the way during Michigan’s resurgence.
Could a healthy Peppers have made a difference in saving Hoke’s job? We’ll never know for sure.
Peppers absence due to injury helped put into motion Jim Harbaugh’s return and together they’re working to put Michigan back into national title contention.