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Heel Tough Blog: Julius Peppers Heading to NFF Hall of Fame

Craig Jones- Getty Images

The wait for Julius Peppers is finally over. After two years of being passed over for the college football hall of fame, it was announced on Monday that he will be inducted this coming December and will be honored on-campus during the 2024 season.

Current head coach Mack Brown expressed his thoughts on Peppers’ induction in the release from the program. "Julius Peppers is one of the greatest players to ever play the game of football at both the professional and collegiate level, so it's no surprise to me that he would eventually be a member of the College Football Hall of Fame," Brown said. "We're so proud of Julius for all that he's accomplished and for the way he represents himself, his family and the University of North Carolina. He's an extremely deserving addition to this prestigious list of all-time great college football players."

Peppers amazing career began right here in the state of North Carolina, where he was a high school standout at Southern Nash High School in Bailey, NC. Peppers not only played defensive end at the high school level, but was also a successful running back that opponents were simply afraid to have to tackle. In his high school football career, which spanned just two seasons, Peppers finished with 3,501 yards rushing and 46 touchdowns, while also being an all-conference defensive player. Football wasn’t the only sport that Peppers was a star in, however. He was a four-year all-conference player on the basketball court and was a state champion in track. Peppers was named a Parade All-American in the 1997-98 season for football and was named the male athlete of the year in the state of North Carolina that same season.

Peppers committed to play football at North Carolina, but was also a walk-on on for the Tar Heel basketball team from 1999-01. Peppers played in 56 games and averaged 5.7 points per game, 3.7 rebounds per game and shot 60.7% for his career. He was a part of both Bill Guthridge’s Final Four team in 1999 and Matt Doehrty’s first team at Carolina in 2000, a key part of the latter of the two teams.

Even though Peppers had some success on the basketball court, the real success came on the gridiron. Peppers was redshirted as a true freshman tight end in 1998, but he switched to defensive end during the offseason of 1999. As a redshirt freshman defensive end, Peppers was named to the Sporting News Freshman All-American team after finishing with 50 total tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks. His sophomore season was when he officially broke on to the national scene, as finished the season with an NCAA-leading 15.0 sacks, finished third in the nation with 24.0 tackles for loss, was an All-ACC first team selection and a second All-American selection.

The season that everyone will remember at the college level for Peppers, however, will be his junior season in 2001. Peppers finished with 19.0 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks, but also finished the season with three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. He was named a first team All-ACC member for the second straight season, but was also a unanimous first team All-American, as well. Peppers won three postseason awards following the 2001 season, as he took home the Chuck Bednarik (best defensive player in the country), Bill Willis (best defensive lineman in the country) and Lombardi (best all-around player in the country) trophies and was a finalist for the Bronco Nagurski Award. Peppers also finished 10th in the Heisman rate for that 2001 season.

Peppers would declare for the 2002 NFL Draft following the conclusion of the 2001-02 season. He would finish his college career with 167 total tackles, 53.0 tackles for loss, 30.5 sacks (2nd in Carolina history), 42 quarterback pressures, 5 interceptions and 13 pass deflections, 5 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.

In the 2002 NFL Draft, Peppers was selected by the Carolina Panthers with the No. 2 selection in the first round after the Texans selected David Carr No. 1 overall. With him being selected at No. 2, Peppers became tied with former Tar Heels Lawrence Taylor and Ken Willard as the school’s earliest selections in the NFL Draft. Current Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky would later join this group after being selected 2nd overall in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Peppers would go on and put together one of the best edge rusher careers of anyone in league history, finishing his career with 724 total tackles, 175.0 tackles for loss, 159.5 sacks, 52 forced fumbles, 21 fumble recoveries, 11 interceptions and 82 career pass deflections. As of his retirement, Peppers is 2nd in NFL history in tackles for loss and 4th in sacks. Peppers is also 2nd all-time behind Ron McDole in career interceptions by a defensive lineman and 2nd all-time in pass deflections by a defensive lineman behind only Jason Taylor.

This should be the first of two Hall of Fame inductions that Peppers goes through this season.  Peppers was on the Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2024 after waiting the five years following his retirement back in 2019 and was named a finalist back on December 27th. Peppers is one of the greatest pass rushers in the history of the league and it would be an absolute stunner if he is not heading to Canton this summer.


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