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He recently shared those tales with the Players Tribune,
"My father was arrested when I was seven years old," Peppers said. "In that split-second when he was taken away, I went from having a father who I could work out with and who was on the sideline for all my football games, to being a kid searching for a male role model in his life. And I didn"t know how long he was going to be gone. He was just … gone. I never visited him in prison — he and my mom wouldn"t let me. They didn"t want me seeing him like that. I talked to him on the phone almost every week for 15 minutes at a time. That was really the only relationship I was able to have with him growing up. So all the lessons that fathers normally teach their sons, I had to learn on my own."
Meanwhile, jis older brother, Don, was involved with nasty elements in the streets around their New Jersey home. But he always kept Jabrill from getting involved, instead keeping him focused on his athletic talent.
Don was Jabrill"s father figure until he was shot and killed in 2010.
"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 said on the site. "Some neighborhoods have a way of swallowing kids up. After Don was killed, I promised myself that I wouldn"t go down like that. I was going to make sure that my mom and everybody else in my family would never have to feel that kind of pain again."
Entering Saturday"s game against Ohio State (noon, ABC), Peppers gets the chance to show the nation that he is making the most of his chance. He hopes to replicate what Woodson did in 1997, returning the punt for a touchdown in a win over Ohio State.
That was a moment that Peppers thought about while playing Pop Warner a few years later and running for a winning touchdown. He also mimicked Woodson"s punt return during his official recruiting visit to Michigan Stadium.
"When I reach the end zone, I turn around, look at the sky and see an imaginary punt spiraling my way," he said on the site. "I catch it, shake one imaginary tackler, plant my foot in the grass and take off down the sideline — the same sideline Charles Woodson ran down on that punt return in "97 against Ohio State. Touchdown. The stadium is empty and silent, but the 110,000 fans in my mind go absolutely crazy. It"s a dream beyond the scope of what most kids from my neighborhood could ever imagine."
He was always invested in the Michigan program and said he was "physically sick" when U-M lost to the Buckeyes in 2013 at Michigan Stadium, on the failed two-point conversion. He missed a chance to play in the game last year, when he was out with a leg injury.
He knows his father, who was released from prison in 2014, his mother and his brother above will be watching, not to mention Woodson, with whom he has built a relationship since coming to U-M.
"During our game against Northwestern earlier this season, I dropped an interception that I should have caught," he said. "When I got back to the locker room after the game, he texted me. I was excited after a 38-0 win over a ranked opponent, and all he said to me was, "When we get our hands on the football, we gotta catch it." All business."
Charles Woodson still on quest to be best after 18 seasons
Though listed as a safety, where he takes the most snaps, Peppers has played at least 10 positions this year, in all three phases of the game, and has two touchdowns. But he knows he could be defined by the OSU game.
"Now, nearly six years after losing my brother, 12 years after my father"s arrest and 18 years after Charles Woodson clinched that rose in his mouth and made me want to be a Wolverine, it"s game week," he said. "It"s Ohio State week. And whenever you get two rivals on the same field, you"re gonna get each team"s best. When the Wolverines take on the Buckeyes, it"s something for the ages. This one won"t be any different — except I"ll finally be on the field for it."
Next Willie Mays? Maybe Jabrill Peppers, Harbaugh says
Note: Woodson, now with the Oakland Raiders, is one of 32 players nominated for the Art Rooney Award, which honors sportsmanship in the NFL. Former U-M linebacker David Harris (New York Jets) also is nominated. The winner will be determined by a vote of current NFL players after a panel of former players selects eight finalists, four from each conference. That panel is comprised of Hall of Famer Curtis Martin, Warrick Dunn, Karl Mecklenburg and Leonard Wheeler.
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Contact Mark Snyder atmsnyder
mark__snyder. Download our new Wolverines Xtra app on iTunesand Android! The Associated Press contributed.