Former NFL Player Paying It Back to Youth Athletes in Thomasville

Danny Copeland is a shining example of a local, small-town boy doing well and giving it back. The Meigs native and Thomasville resident began playing youth football much later than most of his friends.

“I didn’t begin playing football until middle school,” Copeland said.

Even so, he said he knew he always wanted to play football at the highest level, and he did just that. After a successful high school career at Thomas County Central, he went on to play at Eastern Kentucky University, where he was an Academic All American and All-Conference football star.

That got Copeland noticed and drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs. He went on to play for the Washington Redskins, where his career flourished. Copeland helped the Redskins win a SuperBowl, and he was named Redskins Man of The Year in 1993. That also happened to be his last season in professional football.

Copeland considers himself fortunate that he was able to walk away from pro football before neck and shoulder injuries became worse than they already were.

“We didn’t have the specialized and micromanaged medical assistance that the players today (in the NFL) have,” Copeland said. “When I played, it was the mindset of shake it off, tape it up, and get back in there.”

But toward the end of Copeland’s six year career, there was a defining personal moment that he points to as a sign it was probably time to give it up.

“I had been suffering from nagging neck and shoulder problems,” he said. “I considered it to be the price you pay for playing in the NFL. Then, one day, I remember I was holding my daughter, and a pain that felt like a bolt of lightning shot down my shoulder and arm, and I almost dropped her. I knew right then that was it. Time to get out.”

Copeland considered what he wanted to do next.

He thought back to when he was growing up in Meigs and how he always wanted to give back. Even as a young man, he thought that if he ever did make it to play professional football, he wanted to come back home and give back to those who need guidance and mentoring. It sounded easy, but he knew it wasn’t. That’s when he sought advice and guidance from Milt Harding, Redskins team chaplain, , who asked if Copeland would be willing to stay in the Virginia area and help with coaching youth basketball. Harding told Copeland that it would be a great way to learn to translate all he had learned as a player to the kids. Copeland took Harding’s advice and coached a middle school boys basketball program in Virginia for a short while.

Copeland and his wife found their way back to Meigs, where they founded the Christ In Sports Foundation, an outreach program for youth. This program served as many as 250 children at its height, helping kids with literacy efforts as well as youth sports. They operated this program for seven years, until it had served its purpose, Copeland said.

“We felt it was just time,” he said. “The Lord just brought it to a close and encouraged us to look elsewhere to continue helping these kids.”

That next step was to continue to teach youth the importance of having Christ in their lives, with the added importance of leading an active lifestyle. “I wanted to do more in the way of sports training,” Copeland said. “I wanted to build upon their physical skills.”

That’s when Copeland and his wife moved to Thomasville, and in 1994 founded Children of Godly Inheritance Athletics and Next Level Training, Inc. Today, the company works with and trains young athletes through one-on-one personal training, boot camps, and high performance workouts. Copeland said the workout facility has not lost its initial focus of building youth through spirituality.

“We want these young people, and really anyone, to take their fitness to the next level physically; emotionally; and, most importantly, spiritually, through a walk with Jesus Christ,” Copeland said.

For information on how you or a member of your family can become involved with COGI Athletics and Next Level Training, visit them on Facebook and Twitter. You can visit in person at 135 N. Stephens Street in Thomasville or give them a call at 229-226-2220.

“We want these young people, and really anyone, to take their fitness to the next level physically; emotionally; and, most importantly, spiritually, through a walk with Jesus Christ.”
— Danny Copeland

Written by: Phil Jones
Photography by: Eric Vinson

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