“We want to live up to the traditions and the legacies,” continued Hoke. “We understand what Michigan football is.”
But Michigan football had changed in Hoke’s absence. Lloyd Carr’s final season featured a shocking loss to Appalachian State and a blowout loss to Oregon was followed by three lackluster seasons under Rich Rodriguez.
Michigan football was no longer feared; teams weren’t intimidated by the largest stadium in college football or the famed winged helmet anymore.
The Michigan that had formerly played expecting to win every game—an arrogance befitting an elite program with the most wins in college football history—was a shell of its former self.
2014 recruit Jabrill Peppers has the talent and the attitude to help lead Michigan back to national prominence. The 6'1", 210-pound cornerback from Paramus, N.J. has no shortage of confidence—declaring his intention to eclipse the achievements of Michigan Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson to Jason Rubinstein of the Michigan Daily, “Absolutely, I want to be the best player to ever wear that maize and blue.”
Surpassing Woodson is a tall order, but as one of the top recruits in the nation, Peppers has the potential to put the program on his back.
Hoke tried to downplay expectations when asked about Peppers returning kicks on special teams.
“Let him get in here and be a corner for while before returning kicks,” said Hoke. “And possibly there might be a plan for him to play on offense…”
Clearly Hoke is enamored with the talent and moxie of his recruit.
Peppers has an attitude that’s been missing—a swagger—that evaporated nearly a decade ago. The history of Michigan football is full of special players calling opponents out. From quarterback Jim Harbaugh guaranteeing a victory over Ohio State to Mike Hart calling Michigan State “little brother,” these men exuded confidence, and delivered.
It remains to be seen whether Peppers can live up to his expectations, but he has thrown the gauntlet down and it’s exactly what Hoke’s struggling program needs right now.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.