By Cynthia Zordich, Player Engagement Insider
Cleveland Browns Safety Jabrill Peppers is not unfamiliar with adversity. When he was seven years old, his father, Terry Peppers, was sent to prison. His 14-year term would end just one year before Peppers’ senior year in high school. In 2010, his brother, Don Curtis, was shot and killed at a Chinese restaurant not far from their home in East Orange, New Jersey. Peppers was only 14 at the time.
“Growing up in East Orange - it was tough,” Peppers said. “It could be very easy to fall victim to pressure.”
A guiding force for Jabrill was his mother, Ivory Bryant. Because of Ivory, his grades were never an issue. She was extremely strict - once holding her son out of a high school game because of a C. Because of Ivory, Peppers learned to focus on what he could control – his grades, his game, his attitude.
At the University of Michigan, Peppers’ attitude would ignite the crowd. His athleticism made it possible to line him up at almost every position. Michigan fans made a sport of finding No. 5 on each down. Linebacker. Safety. Cornerback. Running back. Receiver. Wildcat Quarterback. Punt Return Specialist. Kick Return Specialist.
“Wherever they needed me,” he said with a smile, “I played them all.”
On the field at Michigan, the Heisman Trophy finalist spiced things up. His positive attitude was infectious. His playful nature made even the slightest gesture - like setting down the ball after a return –applause worthy. Off the field, he joined a fraternity, Omega Phi Psi. The historic fraternity offered the brotherhood he longed for and introduced him to a sense of community through their philanthropic efforts. He also connected with their Cardinal Principles: Manhood, Scholarship, Perseverance and Uplift.
Selected by the Browns in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Peppers looks forward to getting involved with the Cleveland community, as well. But first, he is committed to “the turn around.” A turn around that he and his teammates know is coming.
“They say that with adversity you get closer,” Peppers said. “But, we are already close. We have never pulled away from being a brotherhood. We have tremendous team leaders. We watch them lead by example. How they keep the team morale up. How they handle the press. How they engage with the fans. How they play. We all watch them and learn from them and that is why we have not lost perspective.”
With losing often comes the perception that all is lost. That all is negative. That no one cares or will hold themselves accountable. Yet, if you listened to the Cleveland Browns post-game press conference in Detroit in week 10, you would have discovered that perception is not always reality.
“There is no black hole in Cleveland,” Peppers said. “We’re not getting down. We just have to execute better. All of us. Practices have been strong, but we have to follow through with our plan on Sunday when it counts. Winning fixes a lot of things so, that is what we focus on. Once we figure it out, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
Detroit Lions safety, Glover Quin, was asked why their 32-24 win against the Browns was so close and he responded, “Because the Browns probably have better athletes than 24 of 32 teams.”
Peppers agrees that he is surrounded by talent. But what’s more, that he is surrounded by humility.
“These guys have become family. We tell it like it is to each other, but there’s no pointing. We feed off of each other. We know how good we are, but we also know it doesn’t matter how close you come -- close only counts in horseshoes.”
Peppers also feels that the attitude of the team is a reflection of head coach Hue Jackson, who remains unfazed by the task at hand (turning the program around) and unwilling to fold under pressure or to hold anyone accountable in fixing it but himself.
“Look,” Peppers said, “Coach Jackson knows that most of the guys on his team have been through some kind of adversity. Through adversity we define our character and reveal our nature. Coach knows we’re fighters because we got here, to this level. He knows we’re going to come out on top and in good shape. Yes, we have nine losses, but I think we gain many lessons in every loss. We learn, apply and change our focus from what happened to what happens next. We take what we’ve learned about ourselves from the last game and apply it to the next so we don’t make the same mistakes.”
In week 11, the Browns host the Jacksonville Jaguars. For Peppers and the entire Browns organization there is no looking back, only ahead to that game and their quest for a W.
“We’re ready to go out and play the best game that we can play, so we become the franchise that we are committed to becoming for ourselves and Cleveland,” Peppers said. “Our fans are so ready to win, and we want it as bad as they do.”
Cynthia Zordich is the co-author of When The Clock Runs Out and founder of nflthread.net. She is the wife of Former NFL Safety/Current UM DB Coach, Michael Zordich, and the mother of Former Fullback Michael Zordich (Carolina Panthers), Former D-1 QB Alex Zordich (UB) and Daughter Aidan Zordich (Assistant, Funny or Die).