Michi­gan’s Mr. Ev­ery­thing

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Ralph D. Russo

PISCATAWAY, N.J. >> Ivory Bryant wears a big cam­paign­style but­ton with a pic­ture of her son on it and the words “Mr. Ev­ery­thing.”

Jabrill Pep­pers is most cer­tainly that to Michi­gan, where he’s a three­way player and Heis­man Tro­phy con­tender. To Bryant, though, touch­downs and tack­les aren’t what makes Pep­pers her Mr. Ev­ery­thing. For her, Pep­pers is all a mother could hope for a son to be.

“We have a strong bond,” Bryant said af­ter Pep­pers led the fourth-ranked Wolver­ines to a 78-0 vic­tory Satur­day night against Rut­gers in his home state. “So when I think about all that he’s gone through and how he’s per­se­vered through it all, it’s just amaz­ing. It makes a mom proud to see your son go through such hard­ships, tri­als and tribu­la­tions and yet they stay fo­cused on their dreams. So it makes me feel good. He is very blessed and we just thank God for that.”

Pep­pers, who is from East Orange and won four state ti­tles in high school, put on a show for dozens of friends and fam­ily mem­bers who were get­ting to see him play a col­lege game in per­son for the time.

Against Rut­gers, he was part of a de­fense that did not al­low a first down un­til the fourth quar­ter, and he ran for two touch­downs. Pep­pers would have had three TDs if his 44-yard punt re­turn in the first quar­ter didn’t get called back be­cause of a penalty.

Bryant had a great view of Pep­pers’ spin­ning and duck­ing re­turn, sit­ting with the rest of Team Jabrill — as the T-shirts read — in the stands be­hind the cor­ner of the end zone into which he raced.

“It counts to my mama so that’s al­right with me,” Pep­pers tweeted af­ter the game.

Pep­pers turned 21 just a few days ago, but his mother said en­dur­ing tough times has­tened his ma­tu­rity. When Pep­pers was 7, his fa­ther, Terry Pep­pers, was sent to prison. Seven years later, his big brother, Don Cur­tis, was shot and killed.

“I was just 14 years old, and for the sec­ond time in my life, the most dom­i­nant male fig­ure in my life was gone,” Pep­pers wrote for the Play­ers’ Tri­bune be­fore last year’s Ohio State game.

Foot­ball helped Pep­pers stay on the right path, Bryant said.

“It was def­i­nitely a struc­tured ac­tiv­ity. So when you’re liv­ing in an ur­ban com­mu­nity there’s a lot of dis­trac­tions, some pos­i­tive, some neg­a­tive,” Bryant said. “You al­ways pray that your child would grav­i­tate to­ward the pos­i­tive and he did just that.”

Bryant stressed ed­u­ca­tion. If Pep­pers didn’t make the grades mama wanted, he was not al­lowed to play. She said she held him out of a game dur­ing his sopho­more sea­son in high school. He was mad, but it never hap­pened again.

“He is very in­tel­li­gent,” Bryant said. “But cer­tainly the ex­pe­ri­ences he had, he had to grow up faster. His brother died. You ask your­self, ‘Am I go­ing to stay on the path or am I go­ing to al­low this to dis­tract me?’ And he used it to pro­pel him for­ward, even higher.”

Pep­pers plays of­fense, de­fense and spe­cial teams and has nu­mer­ous roles within those phases. The bio page on Michi­gan’s web­site lists Pep­pers as line­backer/de­fen­sive back. Re­ally, though, he is a po­si­tion-less player, which al­lows de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Don Brown to change for­ma­tions with­out chang­ing per­son­nel.

On of­fense, Wolver­ines coach Jim Har­baugh said the staff has been in­stalling more plays with Pep­pers at quar­ter­back. Pep­pers scored twice on di­rect snaps against Rut­gers and he’s not just a run­ner. Pep­pers had an op­tion to pass on one of those plays, Har­baugh said.

Har­baugh turned his postgame news con­fer­ence Satur­day night into a Heis­man in­fomer­cial for Pep­pers, call­ing him the best player in the coun­try and com­par­ing him to the le­gendary Jim Thorpe.

“To be able to coach a guy like Jabrill Pep­pers is a real joy,” Har­baugh said.

As the clock wound down at High Point So­lu­tions Sta­dium, Pep­pers was be­hind the Michi­gan bench, slap­ping hands with Wolver­ines fans in the stands and giv­ing away gloves and other small pieces of equip­ment.

Be­fore he headed for the tun­nel, he ran over to where his mom was sit­ting. The seats are a good 10 or 12 feet up from field level so he couldn’t do much more than call up a “Love you,” be­fore bound­ing away.

“I didn’t cry, but my heart was def­i­nitely warm,” Bryant said.

“Just to see him come home, to do very well as he al­ways does, but to see him do well in front of his home state was re­ward­ing.”

TONY DING — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Michi­gan cor­ner­back Jeremy Clark (34) cel­e­brates a 53yard punt re­turn by line­backer Jabrill Pep­pers (5) in the first quar­ter of an NCAA col­lege foot­ball game against Penn State at Michi­gan Sta­dium in Ann Ar­bor, Mich., Satur­day. Michi­gan won 49-10.

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