Dan Sabella was coaching football at Paramus (N.J.) High School when he first heard about a freshman phenom from a neighboring private school.
Jabrill Peppers could run. He could catch. He could throw. For a ninth-grader, he had uncanny athletic abilities. Sabella had only one lament — why wasn’t he on his team?
In 2010, Peppers was at Don Bosco Prep, a national football powerhouse in neighboring Ramsey, N.J. Two years later, Peppers transferred to Paramus Catholic, and then became one of the nation’s top recruits in 2013 and signed with Michigan.
On April 27, Peppers became a first-round draft pick. The Cleveland Browns selected Michigan’s versatile Heisman Trophy finalist at No. 25 in the 2017 NFL Draft.
At Paramus Catholic, the draft brought a certain buzz to the school’s hallways, as Peppers became the first Paramus Catholic graduate to be drafted by an NFL team and one of 11 Michigan players who were drafted. Prior to this year, the only Paramus Catholic graduate to join an NFL team was Anthony DiCosmo, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1999 after four years at Boston College.
“There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of pride,” said Sabella, who enters his second year as Paramus Catholic’s football coach and missed coaching Peppers there. “He made such a mark here, and then he did it at a big-time college program, and everyone’s so excited for what the future holds for him.”
The Cleveland Browns introduced Peppers — one of Cleveland’s three first-round draft picks — April 28 in Ohio.
“Whatever Coach [Hue] Jackson’s plan is for me, I’m going to attack it 110 percent,” Peppers said during his introductory news conference. “It’s definitely going to start with being a returner and being in the defensive backfield. He mentioned some offense to me, as well. We are going to see how that goes.
“Whatever I am asked to do, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability. I just want to do whatever I can to help this team win ball games.”
Peppers, Sabella said, is setting an example for Paramus Catholic’s current players.
“It just shows you with hard work and dedication anyone can make it,” Dorian Hardy, a 4-star defensive end at Paramus Catholic, said last weekend at The Opening in Florham Park. N.J. “Jabrill is a top-notch player. He’s one of the best ever to do it in high school. I’m not trying to set my standards as high as his, but obviously that’s something I want to be able to get to someday.”
Paramus Catholic athletic director Scott Langan is in the midst of a busy schedule at the end of the school year, between hiring basketball coaches, preparing for the school’s graduation and coaching track.
But Langan kept an eye on the NFL draft as his former sprinter — Peppers — began his professional football career.
“Jabrill getting drafted is a huge honor for Paramus Catholic,” Langan said in an email to Land of 10. “Our coaches hold our athletes to a very high standard, and this is the ultimate example of how that can pay off. He gave us something to watch on Saturday afternoons and now we get to follow on Sundays.”
Giving back to Paramus Catholic
Peppers’ reach continues to extend to Paramus Catholic, three years after he graduated and headed to Michigan.
Peppers, Sabella said, keeps in touch with many of Paramus Catholic’s players, mostly through social media. He recently made a $10,000 donation to the school on behalf of Adidas, which will benefit Paramus Catholic’s scholarship fund.
Drew Singleton, a 4-star linebacker for the Paladins, is part of Michigan’s incoming freshman class. He was a freshman during Peppers’ senior season in 2013, when Peppers was one of the top five recruits in the nation and helped the Paladins to a New Jersey private school state championship.
Singleton, Sabella said, considers Peppers a mentor.
“They’re buddies, and the same things that Peppers went through in recruiting, Drew has gone through,” Sabella said. “It’s always good to have some people whom you trust and have people for advice and go to. That should definitely help Drew.
“But for Jabrill to come out and accomplish what he did, he’ll be known as one of the best, if not the best, to come out of New Jersey,” Sabella said.
Land of 10’s Tyler Donohue contributed to this report.