At some point during the first quarter of Michigan’s home opener, its defense will force Appalachian State into a fourth-down situation. A player wearing the No. 5 jersey will fall back and wait to receive the punt while 100,000 fans wait in breathless anticipation for the Jabrill Peppers era to begin.
Peppers began practicing with the team during fall camp—unlike teammates receiver Freddy Canteen and tackle Mason Cole, he didn’t enroll early.
Once he arrived on campus, he immediately showed why he was one of the top recruits in the nation. According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Peppers was a 5-star recruit and the No. 3 overall player in the 2014 class.
Brady Hoke was asked how he could place a true freshman back in a position to return kicks in his first collegiate game playing before the largest crowd in the United States.
“Watching him over the course of that last 27 days of practice, field punts, be in those situations, the confidence he has gives me confidence,” said Hoke.
Entering his fourth season in the wake of last year’s 7-6 finish, Hoke’s confidence is a big gamble.
Michigan faces a conundrum in its home opener versus Appalachian State—no win will be big enough to erase the embarrassment of the program’s last loss to the Mountaineers while any mistakes will add to perception that Hoke is on the hot seat.
Enter Peppers, the highly touted freshman recruit who will stand alone waiting to return the first kick of his collegiate career in front of the largest crowd of his life and a national television audience.
They'll all be waiting to see if he can live up to the hype of his recruitment and wondering if Appalachian State can deliver another upset.
The hype surrounding Peppers’ recruitment has been extraordinary, and he reveled in the attention. His recruitment was covered by The Washington Post and he blogged for USA Today.
As a potential two-way player, he was immediately compared to Charles Woodson, who won the Heisman Trophy at Michigan and continues to star in the NFL.
Peppers was tagged by Hoke to start the season as a nickelback, but he has worked his way into the rotation at cornerback by impressing defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
"He’s played tremendously fast, he’s played with great confidence,” said Mattison. “He’s a very confident young man. Every practice he comes out with great energy. Everything we’ve done at practice, he’s been what we thought he would be.”
Hoke has repeated the “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” mantra several times during camp when talking about the progress of his younger players.
Peppers is a prime example of a freshman and sophomore class that “have a little bit more of an edge,” according to Hoke.
Peppers has been waiting for this moment since he committed to Michigan.
According to his coaches and teammates, he’s ready.
On Saturday, we'll get to see what everyone has been raving about.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.
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