There was Jabrill Peppers dancing in the snow at practice on Wednesday, no other place he’d rather be, a Jersey kid playing the game he loves more than most in his home state and for favorite team, playing with infectious swagger and a joy to the world, especially during this four-game resurgence that has propelled the Giants to the top of the NFC Least.
“I’m just always out there trying to have fun,” Peppers told The Post with a chuckle when he was informed that the club had posted a video of him. “That was the first time it snowed — very unexpected, too. … We used to love playing when it snowed growing up, ’cause we’ll [play] football in grass, which would all be snow. It definitely brought back those kind of memories.”
He is Jabrill The Thrill again, the kind of swaggerlicious impact player he was at Don Bosco Prep and Paramus Catholic High School: a four-time state champion who played both ways, and then for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, one of Joe Judge’s captains, one of brainiac defensive coordinator Pat Graham’s maneuverable chess pieces who has broken out with a vengeance (24 combined tackles, four tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hits, seven passes defensed, his first 2020 interception and a fumble recovery) in the last four games.
His character, and appreciation for the man he has grown up to be, was forged by a courageous mother named Ivory Bryant, who raised two sons as a single parent in East Orange and worked two jobs and still earned her master’s degree. Jabrill Peppers understandably prefers not to again revisit the memory when he was 14 of an older brother shot and killed, or a father who faced weapons charges when he was 7 and left prison when he was 19.
“Just a rough upbringing,” he says.
When you ask him why he loves football so much, he tells you: “Football saved my life.
“Like, literally. I was an aggressive kid. I had anger problems, and I was getting applauded for being angry and aggressive on the field. I was able to channel all that anger and aggression into football, and just the countless opportunities that it opened up for me, paying for my college tuition, got me into a great high school, great college, and now it’s taking care of me and my family to this day. You’ve gotta have a great sense of gratitude when it comes to something that changed your life.
“I’m just thankful I get to do this every day.”
He is the Energizer Bunny.
“Now I understand why he played three positions in college or more, now I understand why he played offense, didn’t want to come off the field and returns punts — he just loves playing football,” fellow safety Logan Ryan said. “He has that joy of when you start playing a game, a 6-, 7-, 8-year-old kid who plays offense, defense, the punt returner, the kick returner, that’s Jabrill. He loves having the ball in his hands, he loves physical play, he plays multiple positions in our defense, we get moved around a lot, and we love making plays and we love helping our teammates make plays.
“I feel like he’s playing the best ball of his career.”
He is playing the kind of ball that GM Dave Gettleman envisioned when he insisted Peppers be included in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade to replace Landon Collins. He missed the last five games of last season (transverse process fracture) and is now peaking at the right time.
Asked if he is indeed playing the best football of a career that began in Cleveland four seasons ago under coordinator Gregg Williams (ahem), Peppers says: “Undoubtedly, and that’s a weird kind of question for me because I feel like I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do, making the plays that I’m supposed to make. I’m just being put in a position where I can excel.
“My rookie year I was 30 yards deep off the ball most plays no matter the down and distance, so that was kind of a learning year for me, and my second year I rotated, so I was playing every other drive so I couldn’t really get a feel for the game, couldn’t really find a rhythm. … This year I just think I’m putting it all together and I’m a confident player. I done made all the mistakes that you can make as a player, so I’m really out there worry-free, just letting the game come to me, I’m not forcing it as much anymore.”
“He used to be the ultimate liability in pass coverage; that’s why he was always blitzing at Michigan,” NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger told The Post. “You have to be multiple at the safety position right now. He was always a great tackler, always had a good nose for the ball, was always pretty healthy, but in the back end he doesn’t look like quite the liability that I think he once was.”
Graham’s scheme and creativity have helped Peppers flourish.
Peppers showers praise on Graham and secondary coach Jerome Henderson.
“PG’s done a great job with putting myself and other guys in positions that play to their strengths and allows them to excel,” Peppers said. “And the guys that I have around me are a blessing as well.”
Peppers, 25, cheered as a child for Antrel Rolle, Tiki Barber and Amani Toomer.
“I grew up watching the Giants, loving everything about ’em, and just that sense of pride that not only are you playing for a phenomenal organization, but you’re also playing for your home state,” he said. “It just makes you want to go out there and leave it all on the field game in and game out.”
Which he has always done anyway. Which every last Giant on defense did against Russell Wilson. Peppers could feel as much before the game.
“I can tell a lot by just looking in guys’ eyes and reading their body language, their demeanor, just because of how I grew up, that was a skill I developed,” Peppers said.
Kyler Murray and the Cardinals are next as the Giants’ playoff push begins in earnest.
“This place has been built on great defenses,” Peppers said. “I’m from around here, so obviously I got a better feel for it than most guys on the team, but I think everybody understands that when you say New York Giants — solid, tough defense is the first thing that comes to mind for a lot of people around this area.”
Who won’t soon forget the likes of Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson and Michael Strahan.
“We definitely want to uphold the tradition that those guys set before us,” Peppers said, “We still have a long way to go, but I think they’d be proud of the way guys are out there flying around, having fun with each other, and making plays.”
Pepp in his step. One Giant step at a time.