Gilman grad remains invested in Baltimore despite NFL success elsewhere

June 26, 2017 | Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of Brandon Copeland)

At a time when NFL players often go off the grid to relax and prepare for the start of training camp next month, Brandon Copeland is counting tables in a cafeteria at the Gilman School on a hot June afternoon.

The Detroit Lions defensive end has enlisted more than 130 volunteers to help with his second annual Beyond the Basics camp being held at his alma mater on Saturday, July 8, but that doesn’t mean the self-described micromanager isn’t doing much of the heavy lifting before the big day — even down to making sure there are enough tables for campers to eat lunch. It isn’t surprising considering what Copeland has already accomplished, whether going from struggling undrafted free agent to playing in all 32 games for Detroit over the last two years or finding success in the investment world in the offseason.

When it comes to trying to master an NFL defensive playbook or evaluating stocks and companies, the details matter.

Copeland, a graduate of the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, doesn’t want to be known solely as a football player. That’s a message he wants to convey at his free camp that uses football as its hook while introducing young people ages 12 through 17 to individuals from many walks of life and different career paths.

“They genuinely look up to these people because they’re good people,” said Copeland, who was originally signed by the Ravens in 2013 and also spent time with Tennessee before eventually finding his NFL footing with the Lions. “Then, [campers] find out that, ‘Oh, this guy’s an engineer, this guy’s a doctor, this guy’s in law school right now.’

“It makes them say, ‘OK, I’d love to be Torrey Smith [or] Haloti Ngata, but if not, let me pursue this because I can be cool and down to earth and work on becoming an investment banker or whatever.’”

Having spent only a few months with the Ravens before being waived from the practice squad in Week 4 of the 2013 regular season, Copeland knows he’s not a household NFL name in Baltimore, but he draws inspiration from others such as the late Keion Carpenter who have made an indelible mark on the city over the years despite finding football success elsewhere.

At least 18 current and former NFL players — many with deep roots in Baltimore – are scheduled to appear at the camp, a list that includes the former Raven and University of Maryland standout Smith, a few of Copeland’s Lions teammates, former Gilman teammate and Tennesee wide receiver Darius Jennings, and his grandfather and former Baltimore Colts defensive end Roy Hilton. The 25-year-old dreams of one day holding camps in additional cities, but he says giving back to the place that helped shape him is of the utmost importance.

“Guys like Keion, they definitely had a huge influence on me and what I want to do and the imprint I want to leave on the city,” Copeland said. “When I was planning the camp last year, the one thing I thought was I’m not the biggest name in the world — I’m not any name if you ask me. I don’t have that at all, but I’ve been good to people throughout my life and I can get good people — great people — to come here and help. People like him make you want to have an imprint on this city.”

In addition to the on-field activities and fun one would expect from a football camp, Copeland is pleased to be able to give away some laptops, tablets, and headphones to attendees. However, he’s even more excited to pass along the lesson of helping others to the campers themselves, who will put together 500 book bags and hygiene kits to be distributed through the Franciscan Center in Baltimore.

“It teaches the kids a lesson that it took me longer than I would have liked to learn in terms of you can give back at any age,” said Copeland, who credits his fiancée, Taylor, as his greatest inspiration for being so active in helping others. “While climbing up your own respective ladder, you can pull other people up as well. I’m hoping that by us instilling this in the kids young, that trickles throughout their life.”

Copeland is hardly satisfied with his accomplishments to this point as he faces the challenge of making the Lions’ 53-man roster as a special-teams standout and defensive contributor for the third straight summer. His lofty goals include having a lengthy NFL career and using his investment prowess to make even more money off the field than on it through a variety of channels, whether using traditional means like real estate or perhaps even diving into the movie industry.

He wants to continue helping others and even has designs of sharing his investment strategies along the way, quipping that others can join him in becoming rich or going broke 10 or 15 years from now. Of course, Copeland cautions to be smart and to save — evident from his plan to live off just 10 to 15 percent of his current NFL salary — but he doesn’t intend to shy away from taking measured risks after coming this far in life.

The details of his journey haven’t always gone according to plan and he’s excited to see what the future holds both on and off the field, but being able to return to where it started to give back next month is a humbling opportunity.

“Whether it’s the Detroit Lions or the NFL or no NFL, I’m going to find a way to provide for myself and my family,” Copeland said. “But to be able to literally come back to Gilman and to see my former teachers, coaches, kids that are working out the way I used to back in the day, this is a dream come true.”

Register online for the second annual Beyond the Basics camp at www.bcopeland.com/camp