As someone who grew up in eastern North Carolina, Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers knows firsthand the devastation a natural disaster can cause.
And while Peppers was still young when Hurricane Hugo rolled through in 1989, he knows how damaging a storm can be.
So last weekend, even as the Panthers traveled to Atlanta to face the Falcons, Peppers kept his eye on how Hurricane Florence was impacting not only Charlotte, but also the smaller communities eastward where he grew up.
“As you guys all know, I’m a native of eastern North Carolina where the storm had an impact on that community, so I wanted to do something to help,” Peppers said Friday in his first media availability since re-signing with Carolina this offseason.
That something became public Friday, when Peppers announced he had donated $100,000 to create the Julius Peppers Hurricane Relief Fund in a partnership with Foundation for the Carolinas.
Peppers urged teammates, fans, and other players around the NFL to donate online at a time when the Carolinas most need support.
“You feel for these people because sometimes when these type of disasters happen, you don’t have the basic necessities and things that you need, as far as even food and water and shelter and clothing,” Peppers said. “Sometimes you take those things for granted. That’s what’s on my mind — helping get these people what they need and just trying to do something to help.”
Peppers said that while his family was not directly impacted, nor did he know of anyone else personally in his hometown of Bailey who had been, the surrounding towns were hit fairly heavily by strong winds and rain.
So now, regardless of whether it’s one dollar or $100,000, Peppers is serving as an example and challenging his peers to join in.
“I think it would be a great statement if we had 100 percent participation, to be honest with you, and I think that would say a lot to these fans and this community,” he said. “We rely on their support every week to come to the games and to buy jerseys and things like that, so I think its only right that we show the same support back to them and help them in their time of need.”
Shoulder, sacks, and another season?
Because this was Peppers’ only media availability since re-signing with the Panthers in the offseason, there were also several football questions he addressed Friday, including his rehab from shoulder surgery, his decision not to retire, and more. Some of his answers are below, edited for brevity and clarity:
Q. How are you feeling physically after undergoing labrum surgery on your shoulder in February?
A. I’m doing all right. The rehab and everything went fine. Getting the shoulder stronger. My body feels good, though. The shoulder is not an issue.
Q. And as far as being in playing shape?
A. It’s always a process. It’s a process. You’ve gotta get there. We know I didn’t play any in the preseason and I just started practicing probably like four weeks ago — four or five weeks ago — so it’s a process. We’ll get there.
Q. How has it been working with Eric Washington as defensive coordinator instead of as the defensive line coach?
A. Well he still has a heavy presence in the defensive line room, so he’s still there. He’s been doing a great job of trying to manage everything as a whole now instead of just the D-line, so it’s been helpful having him here, having someone. With Steve (Wilks) leaving, it was great that we had someone that could step up and take his place and keep the continuity going.
Q. What were your impressions of new team owner David Tepper when you had the opportunity to meet him? Will he be someone who allows players to speak their minds when necessary?
A. Everything was positive. Everything has been positive so far. I think he’s a great guy, so nothing but positives so far.
I think (he will be open to it). I think he voiced that. He’s going to be supportive of the players and the things that matter to us, and I think that was important for him to stay and stress to us. So that was a good thing. He’s been supportive so far.
Q. How do you feel you’ve played so far this season? (Through two games, Peppers has one tackle and one quarterback hit.)
A. There will be a time for reflection and there will be a time for evaluation, and we do that after each game, but it’s been so limited so far I don’t know if you can really get a good gauge of how it’s going to this point.
Q. You’re the oldest active defensive player in the NFL — do you wear that as a badge of honor?
A. I guess so. I really don’t think of it that way. Is that a fact? Is that confirmed? Yeah? OK. So I guess it is a badge of honor. It’s really a blessing. I’m fortunate to be standing here still after 17 years basically injury-free. I’m blessed and fortunate.
Q. Are you at all concerned that you haven’t recorded a sack yet this season, and how do you get back to the point where you are sacking the quarterback? (Peppers tied for a team-high 11.5 sacks in 2017 and needs six more to move to third place all-time.)
A. It’s something that I know how to do. And I’m not that concerned about it. They always say the first one is the hardest to get, and you know all the stuff they say — they come in bunches and all of that stuff. So we’ll get there. We’ll get there. I’m not worried about that at all. Right now I’m worried about helping us get a win this week against Cincinnati. The accolades and all of that personal stuff, that’ll take care of itself.
Q. Did you ever consider retiring this offseason, and why did you ultimately decide not to?
A. Eventually there’s going to come a day where you have to prepare for that post-football thing, and I’ve been thinking about it for the past five years, so I think it’s fair to say 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16, 17 were at some point, I had to think about if I could still do it and if I still wanted to.
I feel like I have more to offer and I still enjoy playing. It’s still a good gig. A combination of things like that. And also just the relationships that I have here with Eric and the relationship with my teammates, it makes it hard to leave sometimes.
Q. And do you think you’ll play next season?
A. We’ll see when we get there. I don’t know about that.