published Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Copeland content with hoops choice

  • photo
    Bradley Central High School's Bryce Copeland (10) drives towards the basket duringa game in Cleveland.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Bradley Central senior Bryce Copeland had a high school football career that consisted of 6,435 yards and 60 touchdowns passing and 1,725 yards rushing and another 23 scores. He was a four-year starter and a vital part of a program that had the best four-year stretch since the 1988 senior class won 28 games.

And he has no problem walking away from the sport.

He's at peace because he's choosing his passion -- basketball -- over his love, football.

For Copeland, this Wednesday will feature no hats. No cameras and no surprise announcements about his college plans. Wednesday will be another school day for him -- not national signing day like it is for so many highly touted football players. Three seasons ago, he made the decision that he was going to play basketball collegiately, and the 6-foot, 175-pound senior has no qualms about the decision.

Western Kentucky came and visited. Carson-Newman and Tusculum showed interest, as well as a couple of Football Championship Subdivision teams, including Tennessee Tech.

"I think he could have played quarterback at the next level," said Bradley football coach Damon Floyd, who played defensive back at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "If he didn't get a chance there, he would have made a good wide receiver. There are no words to describe how important he's been to our program; if you look at the stats, it really puts things into perspective. I think people forget what he did do; he's been a very big reason for our success the past few years.

"He's got the intangibles that coaches are looking for: He's fast enough and athletic enough, he's a competitor and has the intangibles."

Copeland threw only 27 interceptions in 819 pass attempts over his career.

"He made a lot of plays, but it's the bad plays he kept us out of," Floyd said. "It's when he didn't turn the ball over, [when he] threw the ball away or scrambled and made a positive out of nothing."

Copeland's basketball career hasn't exactly been a disappointment. He has 1,443 career points and leads this year's Bears in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals. They have won 78 games in his four years as a starter and are in a three-way tie this season in the loss column of District 5-AAA with Ooltewah and Cleveland.

He currently has an offer from in-town Lee University, which will be a NCAA Division II school starting next season, but admits "I'm not going to rush into anything."

For both of his careers, Copeland calls his biggest accomplishment being part of last season's basketball district tournament championship.

"We had been second in football the past few years in football, and it was nice to finally be able to take a team picture," he said. "Beating Cleveland three times in football was great, and scoring a touchdown on ESPNU [against Cleveland in 2011] was pretty cool, but winning the championship was my highest moment."

He recalled his last moments of the Bradley-McMinn Class 6A first-round football playoff matchup last fall, and how those last few seconds ticked off in the Cherokees' 42-22 victory. As sentimental as those moments were, they weren't enough for him to consider donning pads and a football jersey again at the collegiate level.

"It was kind of hard to believe that it was coming to an end," he said. "I had thought about it for a while, but when the moment was finally there, it hurt a little bit. The feeling was surreal, but there's nothing I can do now about it. I just tried to leave it all out on the field with no regrets."

He said choosing basketball for college early on led to other decisions.

"Honestly, I had more coaches talking to me about basketball through AAU, and I didn't go to as many football camps as I should have," he said. "I could have got my name out there through combines and one-day camps, but I played a lot of basketball and just leaned toward it.

"I'm not a real big guy to take the punishment, and I think basketball would be a little bit easier on the body."

Bradley basketball coach Kent Smith echoed Floyd's feelings about Copeland's competitive nature.

"You could tell from the first practice of his freshman year that the kid had the 'it' factor," Smith said. "It wasn't just scoring, but how he went about his business going hard in practice, workouts or whatever he did. He wants to play the same way whether he was up 20 points or down 20.

"It's not just about winning the game to Bryce; it's about winning that play. He has the ability to make others around him better, and at practice you can see how he elevates everybody else."

His career has had downs. He was 1-3 in the football playoffs. Bradley lost back-to-back de facto district championship games to McMinn the last week of the regular season, and his junior basketball season ended with back-to-back losses -- to Ooltewah in the region final, then in the Class AAA sectional at Blackman on a highly controversial technical foul call charged to a teammate with 1.5 seconds remaining in a tie game.

It's his goal to get that win in the region tournament that would allow the Bears to host a sectional game.

"Anything can happen if you can get that game at home," he said. "That would definitely be the icing on the cake. It's been a ride -- a great four years -- and I wouldn't want to play anywhere else because it's been so fun.

"We've had some big wins and some tough losses, like Blackman and the McMinn games, but I've enjoyed every bit of it."

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