Ivory Bryant jokes that she was the last to know just how talented of a football player her son Jabrill Peppers truly is.
Jabrill Peppers has been a star for national power Don Bosco since his freshman year. He is 247Sports' Defensive Player of the Year for the Class of 2014.
She knew he was good, but for the last two years, other parents at national powerhouse Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco tried to tell her it was way bigger than that.
Meanwhile, this past fall as a sophomore, the 6-foot, 190-pound Peppers helped the Ironmen win their sixth-straight NJSIAA New Jersey Non-Public group four championship. Don Bosco said good bye to one of its best senior classes in program history, which included six players headed to Division-I schools, with four of them having been selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. However it was Peppers who was arguably the team’s most dynamic player.
Named the 247Sports Defensive Player of the Year for the Class of 2014, Peppers registered over 50 tackles, four interceptions and two forced fumbles, and he also rushed for close to 1,000 yards and scored 27 touchdowns via rushing, receiving and special teams.
“I think I’m late in understanding what kind of player Jabrill is,” Bryant laughed. “I’m a little late in understanding. I have parents that say you really need to know what kind of player Jabrill is. People joke that you’re going to need a larger mailbox. Now we’re sitting down and preparing ourselves for it, and hoping it’s not going to be overwhelming.”
The recruiting process being overwhelming is hard to imagine with what Peppers and his mother have been through. Two years ago, Jabrill’s older brother Don was murdered, and not a day goes by where he doesn’t dedicate what he’s doing to him. Outside of his athletic successes, Peppers maintains a 3.7 GPA and aspires to be an orthopedic surgeon.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Bryant said. “I don’t know if anyone could have gone through what Jabrill has gone through and push through what he has. Not that he’s not struggling, but he’s pushing through it. That’s part of Jabrill’s motivation to make it.”
Already reporting verbal scholarship offers from Boston College, Miami, Oklahoma, Rutgers, South Carolina and USC, Peppers motivation for next season is to step up as a team leader after playing his final season alongside the likes of blue-chippers Darius Hamilton, Yuri Wright, Elijah Shumate and Leonte Carroo.
“I’m going to miss them a lot,” Peppers said. “They were great role models. But I’m always up for a challenge and we’ll have to see what happens in the upcoming year.”
As Don Bosco’s legendary coach Greg Toal points out, it’s not just Peppers’ physical prowess that makes him the player that he is, but his mental approach to the game as well.
“He and Brian Toal probably have the highest IQ regarding football that I’ve seen,” Toal told 247Sports during the season, comparing Peppers to his son, who finished his prep career as a U.S. Army All-American before going on to being a four-year starter at linebacker for Boston College. “We can play Jabrill any place on offense, any position, and he understands it.
"He knows what everyone on the field is doing. We could play him at receiver, we could play him at tailback, we could put him in the slot, and he knows all the pass routes. He knows what he’s supposed to be doing. Defensively, he knows corner inside and out. I think his IQ is probably off the charts. He’s a really, really smart, smart kid.”
Peppers burst on the national scene as a freshman, intercepting seven passes and scoring three defensive touchdowns. He says he hasn’t begun to really think about recruiting, and besides the schools that have offered, he’s receiving mail from most of the top programs from coast to coast.
Even after a ninth grade year where Peppers was named the Freshman National Player of the Year by a couple different outlets, his mother still didn’t see the amount of attention her son had coming.
“It was this year when I saw kids from the ages of eight all the way to his age waiting around after games wanting to take pictures with him,” Bryant explained. “It was then like wow! This was children rooting for the opposing team, their fans. That’s when I think I realized it. I looked up and said wow!”
Having already taught her son how to be a well-mannered young man and dedicated student-athlete, Bryant quickly jumped on another opportunity to steer Jabrill in the right direction.
“I said to him all this local celebrity comes with a huge responsibility because there are so many children now looking up to you.”