Julius Peppers is already in select company. As a defensive end at the University of North Carolina, Peppers drew comparisons to former Tar Heel great Lawrence Taylor. Now he is the latest winner of the Maxwell Football Club’s Chuck Bednarik Award as College Football’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Lawrence Taylor…Chuck Bednarik…Julius Peppers.
Two legends. One legend-in-the making.
The 6-6, 285-pound Peppers led North Carolina with 30 and one-half sacks for his career, despite the fact that opponents assigned two or three players to block him on most plays. He was a dominating force in the Tar Heels’ 41-7 win over Florida State, recording a season-high 10 tackles, including four for losses, and intercepting a pass.
“Honestly, I don’t think there’s anyone wh9o can stop me one-on-one,” Peppers said. “Everyone will get blocked once in awhile. But one-on-one, I’d win about eight or nine times out of ten.”
Peppers is a frightening combination of speed and power. He bench-presses 425 pounds, runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds and has a 37.5 inch vertical leap. He was a key performer on the North Carolina basketball team for two seasons and helped the Tar Heels to the Final Four in 2000. Playing as the sixth man, Peppers had 21 points and 10 rebounds in an NCAA tournament game against Penn State last season.
Peppers gave up basketball to concentrate on football this past season and it paid off as he helped the Tar Heels post an 8-5 record under first-year coach John Bunting, the former Eagle. North Carolina climaxed the season with a 16-10 win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl as the defense, led by Peppers, limited the Tigers to just 31 yards rushing.
“I still believe that if I committed to basketball, I could make an impact in the NBA,” Peppers told Sports Illustrated. “But my coaches say that in football, I could be another Lawrence Taylor or Jevon Kearse. I now see football as my job and my greatest challenge.”
A native of Bailey, NC, Peppers was a high school All-America in basketball and football. He scored more than 1,600 points and collected 800 rebounds in basketball and was recruited by Duke before opting to accept the football scholarship to Carolina. In his first full season as a starter with the Tar Heels, Peppers had 15 sacks, just one short of Taylor’s school record set in 1980.
“(Peppers) has the body of a Greek god,” wrote Joel Buchsbaum of Pro Football Weekly. “He looks almost skinny at 285 and only has about six percent body fat. He has freakish athletic ability and at times, he will make plays that nobody else could even conceive of making. If you wanted the physical prototype of an NFL defensive end, you would probably end up very close to what Peppers is.”
University of North Carolina