The wait to find a college football home took so long for Huntingdon College linebacker Casey Peppers that he was ready to move on from the sport.
He’d hoped to find an opportunity after finishing at J.R. Arnold High in Panama City Beach, Florida. However, no one called, and he was prepared to go to college without playing football.
“I was frustrated,” Peppers said. “I think every kid always dreams of going to play like SEC ball, some big-time school. Naturally, that’s not for everybody. That’s a very small percentage. I was still hoping for some kind of offer, had a little bit of talk here and there. When I wasn’t getting what I wanted, it’s easy to kind of put your head down and be upset about it.”
In late March of 2019, a month after national signing day and about four months following his final high school snap, he got a text from Huntingdon defensive coordinator Steven Hicks.
“With a school like Huntingdon, I wasn’t too familiar with them,” Peppers said. “I’d heard of them a little bit. But when a college coach reaches out to you, it’s exciting. You kind of freak out a little bit.”
Huntingdon head coach Mike Turk said miscommunication played a role in the late interest.
“Typically, we try to do like everyone else does, we try to get on guys as early as we can,” said Turk, who has been Huntingdon’s head coach since 2004, the second year of the program’s existence. “In Casey’s case, we were kind of led to believe he wasn’t really interested in playing ball once he got through with high school. Someone else contacted us and said he would be interested. We returned the call, got him up here on a visit, met his mom, took him through the whole recruiting process, and it worked out great. He’s been a blessing for our program.”
Peppers said he “immediately knew that it was home” when he arrived for his recruiting visit. He’s been making himself at home on the football field ever since. Peppers, who is now 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, had 201 tackles with eight sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss in 27 games over his first three seasons. He had a career-high 95 tackles last season.
This season, in his first three games, he had 25 tackles, 4.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss, a forced fumble and two pass breakups. He’s also coming off one his best games in a Huntingdon uniform.
Last Saturday, in a 47-7 win at Guilford College in North Carolina, Peppers had nine tackles, four sacks and a pass breakup. He is one of four Division III players with four sacks in a game this season. Drake Neuberger, a senior defensive lineman from Marrietta College in Ohio, had a season-high five sacks in his team’s opener.
“Coach Hicks, our defensive coordinator, just dialed [blitzes] up at the right time,” Peppers said. “Our big guys up front were doing their jobs and made it kind of clear up. Everybody, ultimately, was doing what they were supposed to do to make it look pretty good.”
Peppers was selected as the USA South Conference Defensive Player of the Week and was a member of the D3football.com team of the week.
“We don’t get a whole lot of articles written about Huntingdon,” Peppers said. “To get something like that nationally kind of puts us on the map a little bit and gets recognition for the school.”
He was not the only Huntingdon defender to harass the quarterback. The Hawks were credited with nine sacks, which tied for the team season high with East Texas Baptist and Washington University of St. Louis. Peppers was the only Huntingdon defender with more than one sack, but seven other players were credited with at least a half-sack.
Peppers said the pressure led to some interesting communication on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
“They were getting pretty mad at each other,” Peppers said. “The quarterback actually looked at the o-line and asked them what was going on up there. When you see whatever they’re doing up there is not working, you just want to get back there even more.”
The challenge this week is more difficult with unbeaten Belhaven coming to Samford Stadium on the Huntingdon campus. Belhaven probably won’t give the Huntingdon pass rushers as many opportunities for sacks. The Blazers average 291.5 yards per game on the ground, which is seventh-best in the country.
“That’s pretty much where they hang their hat,” Turk said of the Belhaven running game. “They’ll also big play you through the air. They get you tuned into what’s going on in the running game and catch somebody peaking in the backfield and throw it over everybody’s head. They are real good at that. Their backs are as good as we’ve seen, maybe even the best that we’ve seen so far this year. We’re going to have to play well.”
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