NORTH ARLINGTON, N.J. – They share a famous last name, but little else.
Truth be told, Queen of Peace (North Arlington, N.J.) running back Yasin Peppers isn’t all that close to Michigan star Jabrill Peppers, his third cousin. Their fathers, second cousins Rasheen Peppers (Yasin) and Terry Peppers (Jabrill), speak regularly.
But other than doing drills together when Jabrill was a North Jersey football legend at Don Bosco and later Paramus Catholic and Yasin was a promising Pop Warner player, they haven’t had much interaction.
Jabrill understandably is busy building himself into a high first-round NFL draft pick as Yasin begins his rise in high school football.
“To watch Jabrill doing what he’s doing now, as a family member, I’m very, very happy for him,” Yasin Peppers said. “When people do look at me, it’s normal to compare me to Jabrill.
“But I’m Yasin. I’m my own individual. That’s how I need to look at it.”
On a smaller scale, Yasin is busy building for his own future.
New Queen of Peace football coach Scot Weaver, also Yasin’s wrestling coach, plans to reward the hard-working junior tailback/safety by making him the focal point of the 2016 Golden Griffins’ offense.
Weaver estimates that Queen of Peace threw the ball 98 percent of the time last season in Jim Kelly’s spread offense. That left few opportunities at tailback for Yasin, who played tight end during his freshman season.
“This year, he will be running the football a lot,” Weaver said. “That’s how we’re going to immediately expose him to big things, by putting the ball in his hands. The kid is a legitimate athlete.”
At 5 feet 9 and 200 pounds, Yasin is certain he is more than ready for the pounding he’ll take as a featured back.
“I’m not really too much worried about that,” he said. “I’m just worried about moving the chains and scoring.”
As much fun as Yasin will have running the ball this season, the Newark resident also is eager to prove his value on defense for a program that includes just 23 members. Weaver moved him from linebacker to strong safety because he wants to preserve Yasin’s body now that he’ll be asked to do so much on offense for a team that went 4-5 last season.
“Everyone hypes the last name,” Weaver said. “And hats off to Jabrill and all the great things that he achieved and the direction he’s going, right into the NFL. But no one knows much about Yasin because he hasn’t been given that opportunity.
“He hasn’t been placed in the position where he could grow as an offensive football player. I think a lot of people are going to be like, ‘Wow! This kid can play.’ ”
Yasin experienced that very feeling when he attended prospect camps at Rutgers and Temple during the off-season. Playing against a lower level of opposition in the NJIC left him unsure of his ability before he went head-to-head against FBS-level recruits.
“I’m not going to lie,” Yasin said. “There were private moments when I would say to myself, ‘Why is he so much better than me?’ To go against guys like that, it was reassuring, and it definitely boosted my confidence.
“I just don’t see myself looking back from here on.”
When he looks back on this season, Yasin figures he’ll have fond memories of playing alongside his older brother, Rasheen Jr., on the football field.
Their father, a two-decade veteran of the Newark Police Department, admits he forced Rasheen Jr. to join Yasin on Queen of Peace’s football team this year because he wants them to maximize the constructive use of their time. Rasheen Jr., a senior, hasn’t played football since he participated in a flag league when he was 9.
He admits he is “nervous” about his first varsity game, scheduled for Sept. 9 at Lyndhurst. The 6-feet, 170-pound Rasheen Jr., a basketball forward who transferred in February from Paterson’s Garret Morgan Academy to Queen of Peace, will play cornerback and wide receiver for the Golden Griffins.
“I just can’t wait to see him on the field, because I know he can do great things,” Yasin said. “He’s a very athletic person. As far as defense, I know he can contribute a lot.”
Yasin hopes he, too, can contribute enough to warrant scholarship offers following this all-important junior season.
“We’ve got returning seniors on our O-line, so that just makes me more comfortable and confident in our run game,” Yasin said. “But it’ll all be shown soon enough.”