Strive to be the owner, not just a player.
That’s one of the key messages former Ravens linebacker and Gilman grad Brandon Copeland tries to convey when speaking to youth who are aspiring to be professional athletes. The Detroit Lions linebacker wants kids to know that their options stretch beyond the dream of playing professional football.
“Let’s set our dreams high. You know there’s a guarantee that football won’t last forever,” said Copeland, who graduated with an economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013 and interned on Wall Street. “Let’s set ourselves up so that no matter what, we’ll be able to provide the lifestyle we want for ourselves and our families.”
Fulfilling a dream to give back to his local community, Copeland will host Beyond the Basics, a free football camp open to kids in grades seven through 11 at Utz Field in Patterson Park on Saturday, July 9. Online registration is available at www.bcopeland.com with same-day registration taking place at 8:30 am before the camp takes place from 9 a.m. to noon.
In addition to traditional drills and activities you’ll find at many football camps, the day will focus on teaching young players other practice and training methods to use individually before their season begins. A speed trainer and a strength and conditioning coach will be on hand for instruction.
A group of current and former Ravens including Torrey Smith, Jameel McClain, Jeremy Butler, and Carl Davis are scheduled to attend to help out, but other volunteers include fellow Gilman products and NFL players Darius Jennings and Cyrus Jones as well as friends and former teammates of Copeland who are serving in other career fields. It is Copeland’s hope that the latter individuals can leave as big of an impression as the NFL players on hand for the camp.
“My biggest goal with the kids is we’re all in our volunteer t-shirts and having fun and playing with the kids,” said Copeland, who signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2013 but was released at the end of that preseason. “The kids are going to say, ‘Oh man, this one guy is cool. This guy must play for [some NFL team].’ Then, they’ll come to find out this guy’s a lawyer. Maybe a kid says, ‘Maybe I’ll start looking into law school a little bit.’
“My thing is giving kids role models outside of the box of [only] an NBA player or an NFL player or a professional athlete.”
In addition to the on-field activities, MedStar Orthopaedics is providing a date for campers to receive free physicals while Under Armour and Living Classrooms have also made extensive contributions.
The grandson of former Baltimore Colts defensive end Roy Hilton, Copeland provides his own inspirational story that can be a lesson to his campers. Despite spending much of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 on the practice squad of the Tennessee Titans, the 6-foot-3, 248-pound linebacker was released in September and remained unsigned for the remainder of the 2014 season. After taking part in last year’s veteran combine — which wasn’t held this offseason — Copeland was one of only two participants to make a 2015 regular-season roster and would appear in all 16 games as a reserve with the Lions last season, collecting 14 tackles and a half sack.
Though his Ivy League education left him prepared to move on from football, Copeland wasn’t ready to relinquish his dream of playing in the NFL.
“I was counted out. I was the underdog. I sat at home for a whole year unemployed,” said Copeland, who described himself as a late bloomer both physically and as a football player. “I went to the vet combine. It was my last straw. I remember the first thing they told us, ‘Most of these scouts think that they’re here for no reason.’ Fortunately, I came out of it with a few job offers. I work every single day to keep it going.
“I’m going to go home and give back and try to at least say what’s on my heart to the kids while I have this platform today.”
Unlike many camps that are open to younger ages, the 24-year-old chose to focus on junior high and high school kids who are facing more immediate pressure to make good choices for the future.
While he is using football as the fun hook to get their attention, Copeland wants kids to know there’s an entire world out there beyond what may or may not happen for them on the field over the next few years.
“They’re at a very impressionable age,” Copeland said. “They’re at the age range where you’re either setting up your life or hurting your potential. Football for me in high school was a means to an end, not the end-all, be-all. There are other things in this world besides football.”
Register online for Beyond the Basics at www.bcopeland.com