HUNTSVILLE — Don’t be outworked.
That was the message former University of Tennessee and professional football player Jermaine Copeland had for youth basketball players as Scott High’s summer skills camp opened Thursday evening.
Copeland, a standout basketball and football player at Harriman High School, played with Peyton Manning and Leonard Little at Tennessee, after leading the Blue Devils to their first-ever state championship in basketball in the mid 1990s. He read the back of a shirt being worn by a former Scott High basketball player, Josh Butts, that said “Hard work beats talent,” and used that quote to drive home his point to the middle schoolers who were participating in the camp.
“Hard work beats talent every day when talent doesn’t work hard,” Copeland said. “You want to be Kyrie Irving (celebrated point guard for the NBA’s Cleveland Caveliers) but it takes work to be that good.”
The 40-year-old Copeland, who played Canadian football, XFL football and in the NFL Europe league after college, said hard work does not begin and end at practice.
“I’ve been around; I’ve coached a lot,” he said. “A lot of kids outside of small towns like ours, they’ve got trainers. And it’s because they want to be better. They want to be the best.”
Copeland pointed to Derek and Kyle Keeton, brothers who still rank among Scott High’s greatest all-time players and went on to play at the collegiate level. Both played against Copeland.
“They were two of the best I’ve seen come through Scott County,” he said. “All they did was practice. And I’m not talking about just on this court. I’m talking about at home. Don’t you think, ‘I have talent so I’m going to make it.’ No. It doesn’t happen.”
Copeland recalled his high school days just down U.S. Hwy. 27 in Harriman. The Blue Devils’ basketball team was outstanding in the mid ‘90s. But in his junior season, they lost to Sweetwater in the substate.
“I knew we had the better team,” Copeland said. So, he vowed that Harriman would not be eliminated the following season. Led by Copeland, the players put in extra work outside of practice, and went on to win the school’s first state championship. This season, Copeland’s son, Jerome Copeland, also a senior, played an integral role as the Blue Devils won their second state championship in basketball.
“We were unwilling to lose,” Copeland said of his senior season. “We weren’t going to be outworked by anybody.”
Copeland had a lot of success as a football player. At Tennessee, he caught 131 passes for 1,300 yards while playing for Manning and Tee Martin. In the CFL, he was a three-time all-star. Between the CFL and XFL, he was a three-time champion. But one of his greatest successes came after football had ended. In 2012, he returned to Knoxville and completed his degree at the University of Tennessee. Ultimately, he said, success does not begin or end on the basketball court.
“Success is an accomplishment of anything you do — it’s being the best you can be,” Copeland said. “Whether it’s basketball, football, baseball, track, or just being successful in the family business. It’s not just about on this court. It doesn’t matter what your goals are. It’s about how hard you press yourself to achieve them.”
The three-day camp at Scott High was hosted by Highlander head coach Jordan Jeffers and his high school basketball players.