THOMASVILLE — Meigs native Danny Copeland found national fame by becoming a Super Bowl champion defensive back and the Washington Redskins’ 1993 Man of the Year. Locally, however, Copeland’s fame comes from helping hundreds of youngsters become better athletes and better people.
Samford All-America kicker Anthony Pistelli of Thomasville, said, “I owe Danny Copeland for getting me where I am as an athlete and person. Physically, he’s helped me, of course, but mentally and for life in general as well. He has made me a better person.”
After retiring from professional football after six seasons in the NFL at the age of 28, Copeland and his wife, Joann, founded COGI (Children of Godly Inheritance) Athletics and the Christ in Sports Foundation. According to its webpage, COGI’s mission is “to see its clients go to the ‘NEXT LEVEL’ physically, emotionally, and most importantly, spiritually, through a walk with Jesus Christ.”
An honor graduate and star football player for Central High School, Copeland said that from the beginning of his professional career his goal was to make money in the NFL and bring it back to his hometown of Meigs. He said when he was ready to retire, he was encouraged by the Redskin’s chaplain, Milton Harding, to stay in Virginia with the team for a year. Copeland said Harding wanted “the Lord to prepare” Copeland to come home.
“It was the craziest thing I’d ever heard,” Copeland admitted, “but, it was a blessing. He got me involved in coaching for the first time and was a great friend.”
Copeland said a lot of athletes think they can just walk right into youth work, but it’s not that easy.
Harding taught him to see coaching from a different angle.
“You coach to develop winners in life, in community. It’s very tough.”
Copeland said, “Milton coached men in (the Redskins) locker room. He shared scripture and made us understand what we needed to be doing with our wives and children, not just out on the field.
“When I saw him work with children, I saw him sow life into 13 and 14 year olds. I saw him spend time individually with kids and on the phone with their parents, talking about the kids’ needs. It was nothing short of unbelievable.
“I knew what I was yearning to do. The first place my boat docked (after the NFL was Meigs,” he said.
Before Copeland’s retirement, he had already established relationships with Meigs children. He had brought 35 of them to Fredricksburg, Virginia, to camp. For many of them, it was the first time they got to skate, bowl, swim and camp.
When he returned full-time to Meigs, he knew the challenges the children were facing. He dreamed of bringing recreational sports back to Meigs and said the only one they had was a little baseball, not his favorite sport. But he and his wife worked with the children, developed an after-school program and worked with Southwest Georgia Technical College to develop an adult literacy program. More than 100 children went through his after-school program.
He said, “It always seemed like Thomasville was a short trip, but when you ask for help, Meigs was far away.”
Several people did help, though, including the mother of another Thomasville legend, Charlie Ward. She brought older children from Brookwood School to Meigs to tutor.
He said he and his wife worked with the kids on character development and life lessons, always with a Bible in hand.
“We always had scriptural reference to encourage us,” he said.
Copeland helped a child get develop speed or baseball, achieving phenomenal results in four months. He said he got a lot of good feedback from that and his program shifted.
In 2000, he opened COGI Athletics and Next Level Training in Thomasville.
In 2006, Copeland was inducted to the Thomas County Sports Hall of Fame. At that time, 28 students were in college sports in part because of Copeland’s training and guidance.
COGI Athletics and Next Level Training moved to 135 N. Stevens Street in Thomasville, in 2008.
He said training young people physically is the easiest part. Training them spiritually is tougher.
Copeland said societal issues, like absentee fatherhood and hatred of those who are different, can be very difficult to overcome.
“I try to help kids learn how to be, how to relate to other people,” he said. “We teach them principles that make everything work. It all works with scripture.
“Sometimes they have to be beaten down some and brought back to life. They have to die to learn how to be revived, and grow with it.”
Copeland said he learned some important lessons while playing football.
“Integrity says we’re going to play within the rules,” he said. “We owe it to each other to do the best we can. When we are finished knocking each other down, we help each other back up.”
It’s a lesson he passes on to the youth and athletes learning from him today.
In a 2006 interview with the Times-Enterprise, Copeland said he wanted his legacy to not be limited to playing in the NFL and collecting a Super Bowl ring. He wanted his legacy to be in his faith in the Lord.
He wants to be remembered, “as a man who loved God and a man who loved people.”