After 17 NFL seasons, Southern Nash's Julius Peppers calls it quits

Panthers-Peppers Retires Football

Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers is shown during a game in 2017. The Southern Nash graduate announced his retirement on Friday morning.


Sports Writer

Friday, February 1, 2019

Julius Peppers, Southern Nash’s star running back and defensive end, who played basketball and football for UNC Chapel Hill before a 17-year Hall of Fame career in the NFL that all started with the Firebirds in Bailey, officially announced his retirement from football on Friday morning via a two-minute video on the Carolina Panthers’ Twitter account.

At Southern Nash, Brian Foster, defensive coordinator for Peppers’ final high school season in 1998 and the head coach for the last 21 years, was well aware.

“I knew he was close,” Foster said Friday. “He sent me a text last night to let me know he was doing it.”

The small gesture spoke subtle volumes to Foster of his former player, who has famously stayed out of the spotlight but never strayed far from where he first got his start in his 17 years in the league, 10 of which were spent with the Panthers.

Peppers, the second overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft and the last to retire from his class, was nominated this year for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, with consideration based on philanthropy and community impact. He founded the Julius Peppers Hurricane Relief Fund and donated $100,000 to Hurricane Florence relief this past September.

On Friday, after the announcement, he was in Atlanta, helping other Walter Payton nominees build a community garden and playground.

When Foster’s son and wife, Zack and Kim, were in a serious car accident in October, 2016, Peppers showed up at the hospital where the Fosters were, unannounced, just to visit and check in on the people who were important to him.

“That’s just says what kind of person he is,” Foster said. “It wasn’t for the fanfare or anything like that. He just wanted to show the family he cared about us.”

On the field, the 6-foot-7 defensive end who at one point held Southern Nash’s all-time rushing record finished his NFL career having played in 266 games, collecting 159.5 sacks — fourth all-time — 11 interceptions and 724 tackles. He was selected for nine Pro Bowls, three First-Team All-Pro teams, and played in 18 playoff games, including an appearance in the Super Bowl with the Panthers during the 2003-04 season.

He left the Panthers in 2010 to play four years with the Chicago Bears and then another three with the Green Bay Packers before returning for two final seasons with the Panthers.

This past year, Peppers, who played all 16 games in his final season and missed only six for his whole career avoided interviews all together until Hurricane Florence hit, when he spoke about the impact on his community and his hope to raise relief efforts.

His under-the-radar retirement announcement Friday morning came as no surprise to Foster. In another era, he might have just scribbled his announcement on a piece of paper before walking away.

“I just think he did a lot more listening than talking. He learned a lot from that. He kept his circle small. That’s a smart way to be,” Foster said. “He’s done well staying humble, remembering who he is and where he’s from and what he stands for. Hopefully he can have a good retirement.”