Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff: 90 Days with Julius Peppers

Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears / Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
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Today marks 90 days until the start of the 2023 NFL season, meaning that today's edition of Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff will look at the life and career of the best player in franchise history to don the number 90, defensive end Julius Peppers.

Julius Peppers' Path to the Chicago Bears

A native of Wilson, North Carolina, Julius Peppers attended Southern Nash Senior High School, where he participated as a three-sport athlete in football, basketball, and track and field. On the football field, Peppers was a dominant defensive end and running back, but Peppers was also an all-conference power forward on the court, and a track state champion in the 4 x 400 relay. Despite having a dominant high school career as a running back, logging over 3,500 yards and 46 touchdowns, Peppers committed to the local University of North Carolina as a defensive end.

As a football player on scholarship, Peppers was additionally allowed to walk onto North Carolina's basketball team, and the collegiate athlete would go on to serve on both squads for his first three years in college. After redshirting as a freshman, Peppers would play on both the school's football and basketball teams for the 1999 and 2000 seasons.

In 1999, Peppers led North Carolina's defense in tackles for loss and sacks with ten and six, respectively. Just months later, Peppers was an instrumental role player for the Tarheels' basketball team. The power forward made appearances in 36 games, including the team's five tournament games where they would eventually reach the Final Four.

The following year, Peppers excelled again as a dual-sport athlete. In the fall, Peppers' 15 sacks would not only be good enough for an All-ACC nod, but it led the nation, with his 24 tackles for loss getting him third. In the winter, Peppers averaged 7.1 points and 4 rebounds per game in 25 games, including three starts. Following the team's second-round loss, which Peppers started in, he would remove himself from the basketball team to prepare solely for his future in football.

As a junior in 2001, Peppers finished his season with 19 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, and a team-leading 3 interceptions. After being selected as a Consensus All-American, Peppers declared for the NFL draft, where he was selected second overall by the Carolina Panthers in 2002.

As a rookie, Peppers made an immediate impact for the Panthers, logging 12 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 12 starts en route to winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Despite missing four games in his first year, Peppers' rookie season was just the tip of the iceberg in his time with the Panthers.

For the next four years from 2003 to 2006, Peppers started all 64 of the Panthers' regular season games. During this span, the defensive end recorded 41.5 sacks, 50 tackles for loss, three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, and two selections to the All-Pro First-Team. Peppers was even a starter on the 2003 NFC Championship-winning team.

During the ensuing 2007 season, Peppers took a bit of a step back, logging just 2.5 sacks after missing the final two games of the season due to an MCL sprain. In 2008 and 2009, Peppers returned to form, to the tune of two Pro Bowl selections and two All-Pro selections before hitting the open market as a free agent. During the 2010 offseason, the Chicago Bears would sign the defensive end to a six-year deal worth $91.5 million.