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Duke's offensive line faces tall task of stopping North Carolina's Julius Peppers

He enjoys reading, especially the Bible. He wants to overcome his shyness and become a better public speaker. But that's where the similarities between Julius Peppers and most other people end. Unlike most other people, Peppers is not only the Tar Heels' starting defensive end, he is a valuable player on the UNC basketball squad that reached the Final Four eight months ago. You would think that playing two sports would take its toll on Peppers. You would think that his performance would suffer from missing spring football. But you would be wrong. "I just take one season at a time," the Bailey, N.C. native said. "When I play football, it's all football. And when I play basketball, it's all basketball." And right now, it is his football ability that has been troubling opposing offensive coordinators all season. He has registered 21 tackles for negative yardage, six more than any of his teammates, and he is two shy of tying Ebenezer Ekuban's team record. Peppers has been punishing quarterbacks, too. The 270-pound lineman has racked up a team-high 13 sacks so far this season, including two against Florida State. He will likely just miss Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor's team record of 16 sacks, a mark that has stood for 20 years. At season's end, Peppers will undergo his transformation from a defensive end to a power forward, a role that saw him pull down over 100 rebounds despite joining the program after Thanksgiving break. For now, though, Peppers is hoping that he will come back from Thanksgiving and lace up cleats rather than basketball shoes-a win tomorrow will determine Carolina's bowl eligibility. While tomorrow's matchup may not evoke the same emotion as the basketball rivalry between the two schools, Peppers still looks at Duke's football team just as he sees its basketball squad-the same one that defeated the Tar Heels twice last year. "Duke-Carolina anything-it doesn't matter," he said. "Nobody's going to want to lose that game." Especially Peppers. He hopes to continue the domination that he'd been exhibiting against opposing offensive lineman all season when he matches up against a Duke line that has looked questionable at times this season. The sophomore's numbers are not particularly surprising-he's been racking up honors long before he arrived at Chapel Hill. As a senior in high school, Peppers was named a Parade All-American and was honored as male athlete of the year by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. His football career at Carolina has only furthered his success. His team-leading six sacks and 10 tackles for negative yardage last season were good enough to earn him freshman All-America status. Peppers is not finished yet, though. Not by a long shot. Only a sophomore, Peppers has two years left in a football career that could leave a serious mark on the Tar Heels' record book. Not only are the single-season sack and tackles-for-a-loss records in jeopardy, but Peppers is well on pace to break Greg Ellis' record of 32.5 sacks in a career. This game means more than stats, though. It could mean Tar Heel coach Carl Torbush's job. Torbush was almost ousted last season, but he held on to his position thanks to a 38-0 drubbing of Duke to end the year. This season, the team's record has improved, but a loss tomorrow would render UNC ineligible for a bowl game, and that is not something that generally pleases the people who pay the bills. Despite the media attention, though, Peppers insists this game is not about his embattled coach. "I'm pretty sure he doesn't want us to do anything for him," Peppers said. "He wants us to do it for ourselves." For Duke, this game means trying to avoid an 0-11 season. For Carolina, this game determines its postseason status and possibly Torbush's future. For both teams, it is the Duke-Carolina rivalry. And Julius Peppers is ready to play. "There's a whole lot that's going to be riding on this game," Peppers said.


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