Detroit Lions linebacker Brandon Copeland has been a fixture at community and charity events involving his NFL teammates. But even before he started establishing himself in the league, the Maryland native, one-time Raven and former Gilman three-sport standout envisioned what it would be like to return to his hometown and put on his own event for kids.
"I think that growing up you -- I'll speak for myself, but I'll venture to say most players feel the same way -- you always dream of that day where you can come back and have your own camp," Copeland said. "For me, that has me very excited about the opportunity of it."
On Saturday, July 9, Copeland will host Beyond the Basics, a free youth football camp at UTZ Field in Patterson Park for kids in grades seven through 11. Registration, available online at www.bcopeland.com, starts at 8:30 a.m. with the camp running from 9 a.m. to noon.
Copeland will be joined at the camp by around 16 NFL players, including current Ravens and former ones like Torrey Smith and Jameel McClain.
"It's just been an outpouring of love," said Copeland, who signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent before the 2013 season, but was a late preseason release. He then spent parts of two seasons on the Tennessee Titans' practice squad before signing with the Lions last year. He played all 16 games for the Lions in 2015 and had 14 tackles and a half sack.
"I'm really excited for the morning and I'm excited for the kids as well, to have an opportunity to catch a football from a Torrey Smith," he said. "The reason that I chose the age range is I have some pretty important messages that I want to get across throughout my first camp. I want to project it to the kids that are embarking on some really important years of their lives. We're making sure we're harping on things like the SATs and getting their grades up."
While it is essentially a football camp, Copeland will bring along friends who are college athletes, investment bankers, aspiring lawyers and doctors. As a University of Pennsylvania graduate and current NFL player, Copeland has developed relationships with people from myriad vocations.
"I want the kids to see you can do other things besides dunk a basketball or play football and create a good life for yourself and still be down to earth and humble," said Copeland who was born in Owings Mills before moving to Sykesville. "There's a lot of negativity about Baltimore nationwide. When kids turned on the TV this time last year, the first thing they saw was the riots. But we all know that's just one piece of a giant puzzle about Baltimore. We know how great of a city it is and the type of character the people have here."
Copeland, 24, has an interesting story of his own. It's one defined by perseverance and hard work. He had an internship on Wall Street and spent time working for a major investment bank. But Copeland, the grandson of Roy Hilton, who played with the Baltimore Colts from 1965 to 1973 and starred in Super Bowl V, never abandoned his hope of playing in the NFL, even after he went undrafted, even after he was let go by the Ravens and even after he was without a team after the 2014 season.
Copeland ultimately went to the NFL's veteran combine, and was signed by the Lions last year. Now, he's looking forward to another season with Detroit, and an opportunity to carve out a bigger role on defense in addition to his special teams duties.
Along with that, Copeland wants to make an impact on Baltimore-area kids. On July 9, he'll have the opportunity to do just that.
"I'm walking and living proof that you don't know long you'll have an NFL career; whether it's three days as a rookie minicamp guy, a year and a half, three years, five years. You don't know how long it's going to last," he said. "I'm just excited to be in position this year where I can do something with my own name on it and give back. … The day is all about the kids and them having fun but also learning things that they can take and apply to their own [lives]."