ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Jabrill Peppers will probably have to make big plays on defense, offense and special teams for No. 3 Michigan to upset No. 2 Ohio State and stem the tide in a lopsided series with its first win at the Horseshoe since 2000.
Peppers just might be talented enough to do it.
The do-it-all player, who is as fast with the football as he is fierce without it, has rekindled memories of the way the Wolverines used Charles Woodson during its 1997 national championship season. Woodson, an Ohioan, played in all three facets of the game that year and capped the regular season with a punt return for a touchdown in a 20-14 win for No. 1 Michigan against the fourth-ranked Buckeyes.
Desmond Howard, who also hails from Ohio, didn’t play on defense for the Wolverines, but the wide receiver did return punts, including one for a score against Ohio State in 1991 to help them rout their rival 31-3.
"If you want to be remembered here, you play well against Ohio State," Peppers said after practice Tuesday night.
Peppers and his teammates will get a chance to earn a rare win for the Wolverines against the Buckeyes on Saturday. Michigan has lost four straight and 11 of 12 in the rivalry.
The Heisman Trophy candidate might be playing Ohio State for the last time. He has been projected as a top pick in the NFL draft, assuming he skips his senior season. Peppers insisted that’s not an accurate assumption.
"I don’t know what I’m doing yet," Peppers said. "I still have to talk to my family about that."
Peppers often talks about his brother, Don, who was shot and killed at the age of 14, taking away a father-figure type for a young boy whose father went to prison for several years of his youth. Peppers has spoken and written about how thankful he is to be playing big-time football at a world-class university because many people he grew up with weren’t as fortunate.
As much of a thrill as it is for Peppers to return a punt for a TD, which he has done this season, make one of 65 tackles, including 16 for losses, or get the ball on offense, nothing compares to the satisfaction he gets from being someone people back home — and in places like it — can look up to.
"I just do this for the kids who don’t think it can be done," Peppers said. "I came from East Orange (New Jersey) and I’m at a prestigious university like this. That’s where I get my joy. I want to keep doing it and try to live up to what my brother first seen me do."
When Peppers started to play football as a kid, his older brother told him he was destined for greatness. Anyone who has seen him play has seen what his brother envisioned years ago.
Jim Harbaugh expected to put the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Peppers on the field for about 100 plays a game , playing him all three ways. Peppers said he doesn’t know if he has played that much, but believes he has had fewer snaps in recent games. He prepares to do it all each week, going from meetings with special teams and offense before settling in on defense before each practice. At practices, he runs plays with both sides of the ball and on special teams.
When Harbaugh arrived last year and put the team through 4-hour spring practices, Peppers pulled off a feat that teammates are still talking about. At the 3-hour mark of one practice that left almost everyone exhausted, Peppers returned a punt and then jogged back to field another one.
"When he was jogging back to go return another one, he did a cartwheel, back handspring, backflip 360 in full pads," Michigan tight end Jake Butt said. "I was like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t even believe he just did that.’ It’s great having an athlete on your side. He can change the game on defense, special teams on offense."