At the age of 15, Julius Peppers stood 6'5", weighed 225 pounds and was the fastest, most athletic student at Southern Nash Senior High School in Bailey, N.C. With the skill to dominate both the gridiron and hardwood, Julius knew early on that his body would guide him to fame and fortune. However, even though he had the power and ability of a grown man, Julius lacked the guidance and direction necessary to succeed.
"When I was in eighth or ninth grade, I knew I'd be offered a scholarship," Julius says. "And that's tough when you're young, because you have a lot of distractions. Once people recognize that you can be a college athlete—or maybe a pro athlete—they start pulling on you. You have to keep your circle of friends and family real tight, and keep your eyes open so you're aware of all the negative things and can distance yourself from them."
Although Julius tried constantly, he wasn't always able to keep the distractions in check. The summer before his freshman year at UNC, the school's dean booted Julius from the summer orientation program for numerous curfew violations and because he used a university stipend to buy a pair of Air Jordan's, which were mistakenly sent to the Office of the Dean instead of then-head coach Dean Smith's office. Sent packing and told not to return until classes started, Julius had veered off course before the semester even began and marked himself as a problem child for newly-hired freshman advisor Carl Carey.
During his first days at UNC, Carey, who has a Ph.D. in educational psychology, was briefed on the football star. "I first met Carl my freshman year when he was assigned as the academic advisor for the whole freshman class," Julius says. "But it ended up that he was specifically assigned to keep me in line. I came pretty close to failing out of UNC that first year, but Carl walked me through everything and helped me get through it."
While Carey was prepping Julius for tests and retests in courses like Drama 15, Julius was doing just fine for himself when it came to his game. During the 2000 football season, he established himself as a top pass rusher in college football, setting a school record with 24 tackles for a loss, and coming within one sack of tying Lawrence Taylor's single-season school mark of 16. On the court, he developed into a bruising power forward, leading the Tar Heels to the Final Four in 2000. In 2001—his last season with UNC—Julius won the Lombardi Award as the nation's top lineman and the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player. These accolades solidified his position as a top 2002 NFL Draft pick.
Balancing two sports at a big-time college was at times difficult for Julius, but he believes it benefited him in both arenas. "Basketball helped me with my footwork and gave me a much more athletic style of play in football," he says. "But the physical nature and aggressiveness of being a football player helped me bang with the big boys down low."
In 2002, when draft time rolled around for the dual-sport athlete, Carey became more than Julius' academic advisor. Noticing the endless phone calls Julius was getting from shady agents, Carey began screening the requests and became the talking head for the future star. Eventually, Julius handed over all draft duties to Carey, letting him make the major decisions. Carey's help paid off; the Carolina Panthers selected Julius as the second overall pick.
Along the way, Julius grew up by learning from his mistakes and from the guidance of a key advisor—now his dear friend and agent. "I have seen a lot of guys who were as talented as me, or maybe even more talented, who didn't make it, because they didn't have the right people around them," Julius says. "Now that I am fully grown, I know the importance of doing the right thing, and I've learned how to do it."
Since college, Julius' growth has entailed straightening up his off-field hiccups, taking home the 2002 NFL Rookie of the Year Award and leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2003. His 2004 Pro Bowl season was one of the most impressive ever by a defensive lineman, with 52 tackles, 11 sacks, two interceptions, four forced fumbles and two touchdowns. Knowing that there is still room for growth, Julius has used his vow of dedication and discipline to leave the distractions and negative experiences behind.
At 6'7", 285 pounds, this defensive end can outrun receivers and overpower linemen. His rare combination of speed, size, power and explosion makes Julius one of the most menacing defenders in the game. Responsible for helping Julius maintain his freakish ability is Danny Arnold, owner of Plex [Stafford, Texas].
Although Julius didn't train in high school—or even warm up before games for that matter—he got pretty serious about pumping iron at UNC. "When I was in high school, I just went out and played," he says. "But when I got to college, I started lifting weights and got really big—up to 300 pounds. I was tight all over and could barely move. I was tripping over my own feet, so I knew it wasn't good for me as a football player."
When it was time to train for the 2002 NFL Draft, Carey—Julius' right-hand man—did some research and discovered that Danny Arnold was one of the best at prepping players for the Combine and their pro days. Following Carey's advice yet again, Julius headed down to Stafford to begin training with Arnold. To say Julius' pro day was impressive is an understatement. "They laid out the long mat with numbers on it to measure his standing broad jump," Danny explains. "Julius lined up, then jumped all the way off the mat. Everyone just stared at each other—no one had ever seen that before."
Since blowing away the scouts at his pro day, Julius has returned to Plex every off-season but one to partake in workouts that are as unusual as his athletic ability. The training has helped Julius put his mark on the league, becoming the standard against whom all other D-ends are measured. "Some guys like to do a lot of benching and squatting—all that powerlifting stuff," Julius says. "But I have a style of play that is more athletic and relies on flexibility. It doesn't benefit me a whole lot being strong like that. With these workouts here, I stay loose and flexible. And Danny's training is always fresh and different, which is like playing football."
Synchronizing Julius' training with the game of football is Arnold's main goal, and he pulls it off by designing drills that incorporate movement, explosion and balance on the turf—where the game is played. "The Power Clean is a great exercise to an extent," Arnold says. "But after awhile, it just makes you better at performing the Power Clean. That's why I train Julius with football-related movements—so that he gets better at them."
Arnold even keeps the environment inside Plex as football-like as possible. "When it's really hot outside, we don't shut the doors and windows and crank up the AC like your local health club does," he says. "We keep everything like it is when you play football. It gets hot and sweaty in here; sometimes it's tough to breathe."
With every year that he's returned to Plex, Julius has continually developed and improved his already-unfair athleticism. "Danny has helped with my explosion and quick twitch muscles throughout the whole game," he says. "I have a burst that stays with me through the third and fourth quarters. I didn't work with Danny before last season, and I noticed how tired I was getting during the games. I didn't have that speed around the edge, so I knew I had to come back."
Although he's best known for racking up sacks, picks, fumble recoveries and defensive TDs, Julius is not concerned with those numbers. "Getting back to the Super Bowl is the main goal—it's what I play for," he says. "I don't set personal goals, and statistics don't hold a lot of value for me. It really doesn't bother me if I'm not in the top three leaders in sacks, as long as I am doing what I need to help my team win."
Long-Stride Duck Walk with Sled Drive
• Start 10 yards away from sled
• Perform Duck Walk—walking crouched down with hips at knee level—for 10 yards
• Within one foot of contacting sled, raise your chin while maintaining low hips; pause briefly
• Explode into sled and drive it for three steps, keeping hips low
Sets/Distance: 3x10 yards, rest 60 seconds between sets
Benefits: Improved power when legs are fatigued
Coaching Points: Stay tight in your hips, and don't let them rise. When exploding into the sled, use the same hip power that you use when making a tackle. Always keep your chest up.
Arnold: The Duck Walk fatigues your explosive speed muscles—glutes, quads, hamstrings and hips—about 80 percent before you have to drive the sled. This is how it is for Julius on the field; he performs a fatiguing action, like fighting through a blocker, then he explodes into the QB or ball carrier.
• Stand in front of three- to six-inch high step
• Step up with right foot, then left
• Step down with right foot, then left
• Repeat pattern as quickly as possible for specified time
• Alternate lead foot each set
Sets/Distance/Recovery: 5x30 seconds; rest 60 seconds between sets
Benefits: Improved aerobic conditioning, calf and shin strength
Arnold: This drill creates an aerobic effect while training your fast twitch muscles—the ones you use when sprinting and playing football. If you condition by going out and just cruising through long sprints, then you're training your slow twitch muscles, which is a waste of time.
Perpendicular Sled Drive
• Assume low squat position with sled arm's length to right
• Keeping hips low, pivot and explode into sled
• With hips locked out, perform explosive bench press movement with sled five times
• Repeat with sled to left
Sets/Distance/Recovery: 2x5 each side; rest 60 seconds between sets
Benefits: Improved power, explosion and upper-body strength
Arnold: The bench press movement engages your chest and shoulders, just like you would with weights; but the drill involves your whole body in a much more functional way by creating resistance movements similar to those you have to make on the field.
45-Degree Lunge Walk with Sled Drive
• Perform 45-degree Lunge Walk—stepping diagonally each time—for 10 yards toward sled
• Upon reaching sled, explode into it without taking false step or adjusting feet in any way
Sets/Distance/Recovery: 3x10 yards; rest 60 seconds between sets
Benefits: Improved power when legs are fatigued and in imperfect stance
Arnold: When you reach the sled, your feet will probably be in an awkward position. Football is not played in a controlled environment, so very rarely will you be in a perfect stance. You have to be powerful and able to react and explode when your feet are not lined up perfectly underneath you. Don't rush this drill; instead, keep it controlled so you work your balance.
Arnold agrees that a strong core is essential to being a successful football player; but he also thinks that some athletes overdo it. "The core is overemphasized these days," he says. "You see some athletes working it every day, and they get so caught up in it that before they know it 45 minutes have gone by and they're still training their abs. So many other things could've been done in that time."
To keep Julius' core training quick and to the point, Arnold has him perform a single set of the following exercises, sometimes between working other muscle groups.
Partner Stick Resistance
• Hold stick with shoulder-width grip and assume squat position with low center of gravity and good foot surface on ground>
• Raise stick forward to shoulder level and allow partner to grasp stick between hands
• Without letting head or chest dip or feet come together, maintain balance and resist partner's movement as he forcefully pushes and pulls stick in all directions
Advanced Modification: Perform last set with eyes closed
Sets/Duration/Recovery: 5x10 seconds; rest 60 seconds between sets
Benefits: Improved balance, quickness, body awareness, power and reaction
Coaching points: Keep your hips low and move your feet quickly to react to and resist your partner's force. This is not about working your shoulders; it's about working balance and reaction, and training your hips and quads. Maintain the same position throughout the drill.
Arnold: This drill can bring an amazing athlete like Julius back to reality. It puts him in an incredibly vulnerable position—the same as when he is playing.
• Lie with back and elbows on ground
• Keeping elbows on ground, perform crunch
MB Crunch with Touch
• Lie with back on ground and hold med ball with straight arms in front of chest
• As partner moves hands to various locations, crunch up and touch ball to his hands
Med Ball Sit-up with Resisted Negative
• Lie on back and hold med ball against chest
• Perform sit-up
• Resist as partner pushes against med ball as you go back down
• Lie on side with elbow tucked underneath
• Raise body into side plank position so that only elbow and side of foot are touching ground
• Lower with control; repeat
Sets/Reps: 1x25 each side
Plank with Hand Touch
• Assume plank position on toes and elbows, with partner in front of you
• Keeping body in straight line, reach right hand out to touch partner's hand
• Place right elbow down, repeat with left hand
• Continue in controlled, alternating fashion for specified reps
Med Ball Rotation with Resistance
• With partner on either side, assume athletic stance and hold med ball in front at shoulder level
• Without pivoting, rotate left. Keep hips low and resist as partner pushes against med ball
• Return to center, then rotate right
• Resist as partner pushes against med ball
• Continue rotating quickly and resisting for specified reps
Advanced: Perform last set with eyes closed. Partner will push med ball in any direction
Sets/Reps/Recovery: 3x10 each side; rest 60 seconds between sets
Benefits: Improved balance, core and upper-body strength
Coaching Points: When you rotate and push, do not lean or twist at your knees. Twist in your waist.
Jack Knife with Resistance
• Lie with back on ground, knees bent 90 degrees and arms extended straight out in front of chest
• Squeeze abdominals to bring knees and arms together
• Resist as partner tries to push knees away from your arms
Sets/Reps: 1x15 seconds
The tracks that get julius through the texas heat
It's Going Down.....................................Yung Joc
Against All Odds....................................Tupac
Bottom of the Map...............................Young Jeezy
Good Day.................................................Ice Cube
Dre Day....................................................Dr. Dre
Never Scared..........................................Bone Crusher
Rumble Young Man Rumble................Juelz Santana
Let's Get It/Sky's the Limit..................Young Jeezy
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock