Young participants during Coach Aaron Peppers’ football camp at Proviso East High School in Maywood on July 13. Read the story on page 7. (Shanel Romain/Contributor)

Aaron Peppers, a Maywood trustee and the Proviso East varsity football coach, said he had an epiphany when he started coaching football in Maywood. 

“I began coaching in 1993 and I saw how behind we were in our athletic programs and parks and it really hurt me, as a man, to have to pass out inadequate equipment to kids who just wanted to learn and have an opportunity,” Peppers said. 

That vision, to help give local young people the tools to succeed — both on the field and in life — was on display last week during the second annual football camp hosted by the coach’s family organization. 

The organization, JADSPEP, is a play on the first names of everyone in the Peppers family, including Peppers, his wife, Shawn, and their three children: Joshua, Ashanti and Daliyah. 

“The mission is to instill discipline, autonomy and self-determination in young boys in the neighborhood to prepare them on the field and off, so that they can be better citizens and lead the world,” Shawn said. 

The organization, she added, is also an extension of her husband’s long evolution as a coach, first with the Maywood Bucks football organization and then as an assistant coach at Proviso East before becoming the high school’s head varsity coach. Peppers was head coach from 2005 until 2010 before getting hired to the position again in 2020. 

“He’s always been a community guy, he wanted to see his children succeed,” said Shawn about her husband, who was a longtime Maywood Police officer before retiring a few years ago. 

Coach Peppers’ former players are perhaps the greatest testament to his lingering influence. 

During last week’s camp, held at Proviso East High School in Maywood from July 13 through July 16, former NFL safety and East football standout Sergio Brown mingled with camp participants, who ranged from 8 to 18 years old. 

Brown, who played in the league from 2010 to 2017, has known Peppers since the former’s Pop Warner days. Peppers also coached Brown at East. The two joined forces to host last week’s camp together. 

“We’ve always wanted to do something to give back to the kids,” said Brown, 34. “I’ve always wanted to have a camp. There are basketball camps and we wanted to give the football kids something to do as well.”  

Shawn said Brown is among a crowded field of former Peppers players who are now thriving in life. 

“A lot of the young men that have played for him have gone on to be stock brokers, coaches, teachers, great parents and they’re just flourishing,” she said. “So that’s what he wants to bring back.   

“A lot of the young men I’ve raised come back and help — physically, mentally, spiritually and monetarily,” Coach Peppers said. 

One of his former players, whom Peppers describes as a son, is Marcus Dunlop, a board member with Vora Capital, a New York City investment firm. 

“He grew up right on 7th and Washington and lost his dad at an early age,” Peppers said. “I was his Pop Warner coach. “His mom would let me know that he couldn’t show up until the second half of the game, because he had to go to church. So, I understood that and it was a beautiful thing.” 

Dunlop is one of the camp’s biggest sponsors, Peppers said, adding that other sponsors include Amazon, Cintas, Restore Construction, Leadez, Lakeshore Recycling Systems, Al McKinnor and Chicago’s Chicken Shack. 

Camp participants like Phachaus Coleman, 15, of Maywood, represent the next generation of proud Peppers players who have thrived on and off the field. 

“This is my first year attending,” Coleman said.” I signed up for the camp, because I played football last year and wanted to get better. I am loving it so far. I love how my coaching staff runs the program and how everything is set up. I feel like I’m getting faster by doing parachutes.” 

If Coach Peppers has his way, Coleman will parachute into success beyond the gridiron. 

“For football to be the tool and opportunity to open other doors is priceless,” Peppers said. 

Michael Romain contributed to this report.