There are a few things that define summer in the city: snowballs, swimming pools, and summer camps. For the third year in a row, Baltimore native and New York Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland is bringing his football camp back to Gilman this weekend.
The Beyond the Basics football camp is run by Copeland, his wife Taylor, and family and friends to give back to the community that helped shape him into the man he is today. With the support of the NFLPA, beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday, July 7, more than 400 kids will flock to Gilman’s Roland Park campus to participate in a day of football drills, community service, and mentorship.
Copeland says that the camp goes beyond football. He wants to make this day more meaningful to the kids than just running routes, catching passes, and going over drills.
“For us, it’s not about football at all—I really could care less about the football part,” Copeland said. “We really have some messages and exposure to help kids activate and understand their potential for success in this world.”
Never having attended a football camp growing up, Copeland drew inspiration from helping out his teammates at theirs and wanting to create something he always wanted as a kid. Since its inception, the camp has seen a steady growth in attendance from every part of Baltimore City and County.
Last year, nearly 300 kids attended the camp and, this year, he’s expecting 100 more. Although the camp is free, it’s reserved for kids ages 11-17 who are excelling in school and Copeland actually requires registrants to bring copies of their reports cards and transcripts. Some students will receive laptops and Kindles to help them further excel academically.
“We want to make sure we’re equipping these kids with the necessary tools to be successful,” Copeland said. “If a laptop can help them study for the SATs or write that college essay, we’re more than happy to help.”
A big aspect of the camp also focuses on community service and the importance of giving back. For the first hour, kids will be split into two groups—the first group will be packing backpacks and the second will be packing toiletry kits. Each of the items will be donated to the Franciscan Center of Baltimore that provides emergency assistance to residents who are struggling economically.
“How cool is it for an 11-year-old that you just built a book bag that will benefit another kid in need,” he said. “We want to teach them that you can be a blessing to someone else even if you’re young and broke. Spending your time doing something meaningful can benefit someone else.”
Copeland also stresses the importance of having a backup plan while pursuing a professional sports career. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, the linebacker spent his time working as a part-time analyst for Weiss Multi Strategy Advisers during the NFL off-season. He and his wife have also ventured into the world of real estate, most recently flipping a home in Baltimore.
“I’m always sharing career options and goals outside of football with the kids,” he said. “Anything can happen. It’s not a crime to also enjoy law, and literature, and design. You have more time in your life not playing football than you do actually playing. You need to find something to do with the rest of your life.”
Although registration is officially closed, Copeland allows walk-ons because he says that he has a hard time turning kids away. His goal is to bring something to the kids that will help to shape them into successful athletes and, more importantly, well-rounded people.
“We don’t want to lose the reason we started doing this,” he said. “We want to positively affect these kids and expose them to other opportunities and professions and role models that look like them. If we can’t do that, we’ve ultimately failed as a camp.”