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Ex-Buc Horace Copeland puts on a camp for kids in Spring Hill

SPRING HILL

Life after retirement is different for every professional athlete. For former Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Horace Copeland, it's centered on his family: his wife and four children.

The family had lived in Lutz after Copeland retired from the NFL in 2000, after a couple of injury-plagued seasons with the Oakland Raiders. More recently, they moved to Spring Hill, and that's when the former gridiron star started giving back to the community.

From volunteering his time at the Eckerd Youth Challenge Program for at-risk youths to talking to Hernando Youth League football teams, Copeland has been visible across Hernando. Recently, parents and children began to ask him when he was going to put on a football camp.

"I never had any plans to do (a camp)," Copeland said, "but so many people were coming up to me and asking about it, I felt like I kind of owed it to the people around here to try and do something."

At 40 years old and with his son entering Nature Coast Technical High School this fall, Copeland now seems nearly as entrenched in the community as the late Jerome Brown, a fellow University of Miami alumnus, once was.

As he put together the July 22-23 camp at Springstead High School with the help of the Hernando County Parks and Recreation Department, Copeland was able to attract some big names from the world of football. Errict Rhett, Marcus Jones, Leon Searcy and Dean May all came out to help with a turnout of more than 100 kids.

Considering that a similar camp held by NFL tight end Anthony Becht in Weeki Wachee drew only 40 campers earlier this summer in its third year, it was an overwhelming success for Copeland.

"I think this shows the impact that Horace has already made with the people in this community in his short time here," parks and recreation director Harry Johnson said. "When you are able to live here and give back as much as he has, he becomes so visible that people just want to be around him."

Middle and high school coaches in the area were also quick to come out and lend a hand at the camp. Each day, coaches from West Hernando Middle, Powell Middle and Explorer K-8 schools helped teach fundamentals to youth between the ages of 7 and 14.

Sponsors supported the camp as well. Besides Pepsi providing water and Gatorade for campers both days, lunch was provided on the first day by the Hernando County schools, Papa John's, Hungry Howie's and Chick-fil-A. On the final day, employees from Texas Roadhouse came to Springstead to grill hot dogs for the kids. Publix provided the kids with a cake to celebrate the conclusion of the clinic.

Copeland's former teammates and friends were quick to join him, and they all seemed to have a good reason why.

Jones, who was a neighbor of the Copeland family in Lutz, recalls how the wide receiver was a friendly shoulder to lean on when things got tough his rookie season in the NFL.

"From that point on, I always said that if Hi-C (Copeland) needed anything, I would be there for him," said Jones, a Florida State alum who retired from the NFL in 2002 because of knee and shoulder injuries. "I feel like this is the perfect reason to be there for my friend."

Rhett, who starred for the Florida Gators and the Bucs, said he respects the game of football and the kids who play it.

"I think the biggest thing about coming back here is that, whether it's these kids or it's these kids' parents, there's something to watching and listening to players you've seen play on TV show you some things on the field," Rhett said. "When I was little, there were no NFL players or anything like that to show me or tell me the kind of doors that this sport could open for me.

"Football has given me a lot of opportunities. I just want to be able to give those back, and if (Copeland) holds this again next year, I'll be right back here again."

Rhett, 40, lives in South Florida and is a real estate investor. He is also a color commentator for Fox Sports on Florida Gators football games.

More than anything, the man behind the camp, Copeland, embodied the entire experience. The two days were well organized, and parents didn't just drop off their children and leave. Most stayed to watch in the heat and humidity as Copeland and the other former players put the kids through drills and taught them techniques.

"I know sometimes athletes get this reputation for being intimidating or arrogant, but I am just someone who wants to give back and be me," Copeland said.

Ex-Buc Horace Copeland puts on a camp for kids in Spring Hill 07/29/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 29, 2011 9:47pm]

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