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Southern Nash High graduate Julius Peppers is one of the headliners in the North Carolina Sport Hall of Fame’s 2020 induction class announced Jan. 22.
Peppers, who went on to become one of the greatest defensive ends in NFL history, is joined by North Carolina football head coach Mack Brown, former major league baseball player Trot Nixon and former Wake Forest and NBA basketball star Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues in the 12-person class that will be enshrined May 1 at the Raleigh Convention Center.
Other inductees are former N.C. State women’s basketball star and current ESPN college basketball analyst Debbie Antonelli; the late Dennis Craddock, the longtime men’s and women’s track and field coach at UNC; Dr. Charles Kernodle, who has served as the team doctor for the Walter Williams High football team in Burlington for more than 60 years; Mac Morris, the former longtime boys basketball coach at Page High in Greensboro; Bobby Purcell, former longtime assistant football coach at N.C. State and current executive director of the Wolfpack Club; Judy Rose, who was the athletic director at UNC Charlotte for 28 years; Tim Stevens, who covered high school sports for The Raleigh Times and The News & Observer; and Donnell Woolford, a three-sport star at Douglas Byrd High in Fayetteville who was twice named All-America as a defensive back at Clemson before becoming a Pro Bowl cornerback for the Chicago Bears of the NFL.
Peppers, who was born in Wilson and grew up in Bailey, retired Feb. 1, 2019, after 17 seasons in the NFL, including two stints totaling 11 seasons with the Carolina Panthers, the team that drafted him with the No. 2 overall pick out of UNC in 2002. Peppers helped Carolina reach the Super Bowl for the first time in team history in 2004.
He finished his career with 159.5 sacks, the fourth most all time, while playing in 266 games, which is an NFL record for a defensive lineman. A nine-time Pro Bowl selection, Peppers was named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.
At UNC, Peppers was a second-team All-American as a sophomore and a unanimous first-team All-America pick his junior season when he won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the top defensive player in the country and the Lombardi Award as the top lineman in the nation. Peppers also was a standout basketball player at UNC for two seasons.
At Southern Nash, Peppers, the Wilson Daily Times Athlete of the Year in 1998, was a three-sport star. Playing most at running back, Peppers ran for 3,501 yards and 38 touchdowns in three varsity seasons for the Firebirds. He scored 1,661 points and pulled down 876 rebounds in his Southern Nash basketball career.
Even at 6-foot-7, 250 pounds in high school, Peppers was part of the Firebirds’ 4x400-meter relay team that won a state championship, helping the Firebirds win the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A team title in 1998. He also finished second in the triple jump at the state meet.