GREEN BAY – Football was the furthest thing from Taybor Pepper’s mind as the free-agent long snapper worked the cash register at his parents’ consignment store Sunday night.
Then, Pepper received a text message from his agent, Kelli Masters, informing him of a potential opportunity with the Packers, with whom he’d spent part of the offseason program.
“My agent called me and was kind of like, ‘There might be a situation. There might not be. Be ready,’” Pepper said. “After the game, (Packers director – football operations) Eliot Wolf called me and said, ‘We need you here.’”
The Packers re-signed Pepper on Monday after placing veteran long snapper Brett Goode on injured reserve with a hamstring injury he sustained in Green Bay’s 27-24 overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
At the time of Goode’s injury, Pepper had been working at the “One Week Boutique,” a consignment business his parents, Cam and Donna, were running in Champaign, Ill. It’s a pop-up shop his mom has been running for 14 years on a twice-a-year basis, specializing in children’s clothes, toys, car seats and strollers.
After receiving the call from the Packers, Pepper actually went back to work and finished his shift until he was informed when he’d be flying to Green Bay.
“Normally, I’m in Saline, Mich., so I kind of had to scramble to pack a bag that night,” said Pepper, who played at Michigan State from 2012-15. “It’s kind of like a lot of long-snapper stories you hear about.”
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound rookie first signed with the Packers as a street free agent in January. He competed with Derek Hart for the long-snapping job for the first few weeks of the offseason program before being released after rookie orientation.
As you might expect, Pepper formed a friendship with Hart and kicker Mason Crosby, but he also forged an unlikely bond with veteran tight end Martellus Bennett during his short time in Green Bay.
“Him being a vet, he’d come in and normally the rookies would work out later in the day and he’d come in and work out with us,” Pepper said. “I’d start to go back to the locker room the first couple days after the lift was over and I saw he was over in the little turf field next to the weight room and putting in work, extra footwork, little things and stretching a little bit more. I was like, you know what? He’s been in this league for a long time. He’s made a name for himself.”
Bennett went so far as to give Pepper a few book suggestions, including Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success.” Pepper said he “devoured” the book in three days.
His NFL journey hit a snag when the Packers released him in May. Pepper thanked Crosby and Bennett on Twitter, to which the veteran tight end wished the young long snapper well.
While the Packers proceeded with Hart as the lone long snapper on the roster through the opening three weeks of camp, Pepper worked out four days a week at his friend’s gym and snapped to players once a week at his alma mater, Saline High School.
Pepper worked out for Jacksonville and New England twice before signing with Baltimore for the final preseason game, getting a chance to learn under Pro Bowl long snapper Morgan Cox. He originally had met Cox during a previous minicamp appearance with the Ravens.
“Before I got here I asked him (for) a bit of advice and he was like, ‘Take it one day at a time. Whenever you show up, don’t look at it like you’re trying to make the 53-man roster,’” Pepper said. “Make it to camp, make it to the first preseason game, the next preseason game and then you can worry about making the 53.’ I took that to heart.”
Green Bay eventually re-signed Goode, who won the long-snapping job over Hart and played in the first three regular-season games before injuring his hamstring against the Bengals.
The rookie long snapper has no hard feelings about being released in May. That’s how it works when you’re a young specialist trying to break into the NFL.
Pepper sees the positives in his brief experience in Green Bay since it gave him time to get to know Crosby. He also snapped to rookie punter Justin Vogel during rookie orientation.
Now two lockers away from Aaron Rodgers, Pepper admits it’s all “pretty sweet.” While grateful for a second chance, Pepper’s focus now turns to his upcoming NFL debut against Chicago this Thursday night.
“It was a gut check when I got back home because I got cut right after the rookie minicamp,” Pepper said. “One thing I learned this summer is you can only control what you can control. There’s a lot of factors outside that are kind of out of your control. I really took that to heart and I’m back here. I’d say it worked for me.”