“This ring happens to be a product of me having gained a lot on the Eastern Kentucky campus,” said Danny Copeland pointing to the well-recognized solid gold ring on his finger that was designed by Tiffany and Co. and declares the Washington Redskins world champions.
As an EKU freshman in the 1980s, Copeland had one goal. “I had my own dreams of playing [professional] football. I didn’t know a whole lot about ‘team’ at the time,” he remembered. EKU Coach Jack Ison was one of many role models Copeland met at EKU who helped him find his way. “He’s one of the best teachers and the best mentors I’ve had the privilege of being around,” Copeland said of Ison.
Copeland was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1988 and went on to play five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington Redskins. He was a starter in January 1992 when the Redskins won The Big Game.
When he retired from football, he wanted to help others accomplish their goals. He established Children of Godly Inheritance (COGI), a gym in his hometown of Meigs, Georgia. The organization focuses on the physical and spiritual development of athletes.
In addition to training world-class competitors, Copeland talks to them about preparing for college. Occasionally, someone would ask about his degree, and he would explain that he had not been able to finish it before going pro. “I can say I never felt comfortable with having to [say] that,” he recalled.
Many people in Richmond felt the same way. He kept in touch with several friends in Kentucky over the years. “In conversation, the degree would come up and people would offer to help,” he said. With a large family and a growing business in Georgia, Copeland knew returning to campus would be impossible.
That all changed when he heard about the university’s fully online degree programs. Instead of thinking of all the reasons he could not finish what he started, he began thinking about whether or not he could make it work. EKU staff reached out to answer all his questions and provided resources like assistance with the application and information about NCAA scholarship opportunities.
“These folks don’t know me, and they were finding ways to help me. It was so encouraging to see other people go to bat to try and help make this happen,” said Copeland.
On May 11, 2018 Danny Copeland graduated from Eastern Kentucky University. He returned to campus for the ceremony and had an opportunity to visit with the friends and mentors who inspired him. An impromptu reunion with Coach Ison allowed him to thank him for those early lessons about teamwork.
“For almost 30 years, I’ve been able to take things that I learned on this campus and pass those on to other people. To be able to come back this weekend and kind of crown it all has been great,” Copeland said.