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Sykesville native Copeland drawing interest as NFL prospect

Sykesville native Brandon Copeland was a three-year starter for Penn at defensive end, a three-year first-team All-Ivy League selection and a player who led the Quakers in sacks as a senior.

Yet, ask Penn defensive coordinator Ray Priore about Copeland and, even before talking about anything Copeland provides from a physical standpoint, he talks about Copeland as a leader, speaks with passion about Copeland being elected as Penn's first solo captain since 1997, lauds Copeland for his work ethic and repeatedly describes Copeland as "just a phenomenal kid to have worked with."

It's been primarily Copeland's physical skills, though, that have helped him progressively ascend NFL draft boards leading up to next week's NFL draft to the point that he's now projected as a possible late-round selection or, at worst, a priority free agent.

Multiple teams have expressed an interest in Copeland, the grandson of former Baltimore Colts defensive end Roy Hilton. Among those teams: The Baltimore Ravens, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts.

And while Copeland did play defensive end in college, most believe the 6-foot-3, 260-pounder with 4.72 speed in the 40-yard dash has the tools to make the transition to outside linebacker at the NFL level.

"It'll obviously be so important for him to end up in the right system that will utilize his talents the right way," Priore said, "But he has the intangibles that any pro team would like to have. And given the opportunity, and given the chance to showcase his skills, Brandon's future looks very bright."

Copeland was born in Baltimore but moved to Sykesville as a fourth-grader and played his first organized football for the Sykesville Raiders that same year.

He attended Linton Springs Elementary and later Sykesville Middle while continuing to play for the Sykesville Raiders before transferring to Gilman as an eighth-grader.

Copeland was a three-sport athlete at Gilman, participating in football, basketball and track. He earned earned All-Baltimore City honors in football as a senior in 2008 and played in both the Maryland Crab Bowl and Baltimore Touchdown Club all-star games, but he was only lightly recruited and ended up at Penn.

"We were very lucky to recruit him," Priore said. "He had a very late growth spurt, one of those guys from his junior year to senior year really grew, and the recruiting cycle is so fast that a lot of people probably just snuck by him a little too fast."

And at Penn, Copeland quickly developed into a contributor as a freshman, showcasing an advanced football I.Q. and advanced tools from a technique-standpoint for a player his age - not overly surprising considering the lessons, tips and teaching he'd received from his grandfather, Hilton, dating back to the fourth grade.

Hilton played 11 seasons in the NFL as a defensive end from 1965 to 1975, the first eight of which with the Colts. Defensive end, of course, the same position that Copeland played at Penn.

"He's always just been there as a grandfather first," Copeland said of Hilton. "But he's also helped me out a lot in terms of football. In high school, he taught me how to get down with both of my hands so that I could play either side of the line, which in turn helped me play as a freshman at Penn. ...

"He taught me pass-rush moves. He told me stories of how to take on blocks. Even as a little kid, I remember him drawing up X's and O's. And as a young player, he's helped me out a lot just in terms of my instincts and just knowledge for the game of football."

The coaching continues today.

Hilton attended all of Copeland's home games during Copeland's four years at Penn and is still constantly offering his input, although he said this week in a proud tone that Copeland "is coming around now more than ever."

Copeland was a starter during each of his final 30 games at Penn, including all 10 as a senior this past season, when he finished with 51 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss and five sacks.

He had 51 tackles, including six for a loss and two sacks as a junior and 45 tackles, including 10 for a loss and three sacks as a sophomore.

"I'm just really impressed by his output," Hilton said. "I was happy with his play this year in particular because I saw him do things that I couldn't do because I didn't have the strength that he has - just physically manhandling a guy. And with that, his quickness and the hand techniques that he has, he's going to be OK."

And whether it's as a draft pick or as a player brought in as an undrafted free agent, Hilton believes his grandson has the tools to succeed in the NFL.

At Penn's Pro Day in March, Copeland, at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, ran the 40-yard in 4.72 seconds, considered an above-average time for a player of his size, and did 30 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press, which, if done at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, would've been the second-highest mark among linebackers and tied for sixth-best among defensive linemen.

He also tested out well in the vertical jump (34.5 inches), the broad jump (10-2) and the three-cone drill (7.29 seconds) as well as in the 20-yard shuttle (4.37). The 20-yard shuttle is a drill designed to test an athlete's lateral quickness.

"One of the things that's been consistent in terms of feedback from teams has been that they're impressed with how big I am and how well I can move," Copeland said. "That's been consistent across the board. Teams have also been impressed with my hands, and teams have asked if I've played tight end before and if I could do that. ...

"But, as far as the draft, I've been projected as a free agent, and free agency has its own benefits in terms of choosing what team you want to go to if you get more than one offer, but it would definitely be nice to get the call on draft day and to know that all my hard work has paid off. But, if not, I'm still just blessed to be able to put on the pads again."

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