Peppers starting NFL career at homePosted: Saturday April 20, 2002 6:06 PM
Updated: Saturday April 27, 2002 2:22 PM
A dominant defensive end from North Carolina, Peppers was selected by the Carolina Panthers with the second overall pick in Saturday's draft.
"I'll be staying close to home, school, family and friends. It's going to be a real good situation for me," said Peppers, who grew up in from Bailey, N.C., some 200 miles from Charlotte.
It a real good situation for his mom, too. Bessie Brinkley will just have more headlines to clip for her son's scrapbook.
"People told me that he was a good athlete," she said, while clutching a Panthers cap. "They've been telling me that for the last few years, but I don't really know that much about sports. But last year, it really started to sink in for me. He was in the newspapers all the time."
Peppers' athletic abilities first surfaced while he was at Southern Nash High School, where he played football, basketball and competed in the triple jump and relays for the track team.
He went on to North Carolina, where he played football and basketball and became a popular presence on campus.
"There's definitely going to be extra pressure playing in Carolina, but I think that's what good players become great in -- pressure situations," he said. "And I'm ready for that."
Peppers wasn't concerned about having to help turn around a franchise that went 1-15 last season.
"Sure there's pressure, but it's nothing I'm afraid of," said Peppers, who won the Lombardi Award as the nation's top lineman and the Chuck Bednarik Award as the best defensive player last season.
Peppers admits he might be a little anxious when he first steps on the field as an NFL player, but the feeling won't last long.
"Once I get through a few plays and adjust to the speed of the game, I'll be fine," he said.
Peppers had 30 1/2 sacks and 167 tackles -- second on the Tar Heels' career list in both categories despite just playing three seasons. His dominance on the field often drew comparisons to former Tar Heels linebacker and NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor.
His No. 49 jersey will hang from the facade at North Carolina's Kenan Stadium beginning next season, and the marketing possibilities for Carolina's homegrown star are endless.
"But I think he'll just stay the same Julius," Brinkley said.
There were knocks on Peppers leading up to the draft that he didn't always give complete efforts, that he took plays off. Peppers doesn't think that should be a concern.
"It's not important for me to be a star, but it is important for me to be one of the better players," Peppers said. "I won't feel comfortable with not living up to my potential. I don't want to be spoken of as the player who didn't reach his potential, so I'm going to work extra hard."
Peppers, who didn't play football until late in high school, is undeniably a gifted athlete. He brushed aside a basketball career with the Tar Heels after two seasons to concentrate solely on football.
"I thought he would end up being a basketball player," his mother said. "That's what he played more."
The 6-foot-6, 283-pound Peppers helped lead North Carolina to the Final Four as a freshman in 2000 and was considered a possible NBA prospect.
"Last summer, I decided I wasn't going to play basketball anymore," Peppers said. "There's no looking back now and I don't regret my decision. I barely watched them. I was focusing on my own business."
Peppers' size, explosiveness off the snap and pass-rushing skills excite Carolina, and Peppers said coach John Fox has thought about putting him on the left end.
"I was kind of stuck in what I could do at North Carolina pass rushingwise," Peppers said. "Now I could just go out there and go. That's how I'm most effective.
"Just put me out there and let me do what I do best."