It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and former Penn football defensive end Brandon Copeland is catching passes from junior quarterback Ryan Becker on the turf of the Quakers’ softball field at Penn Park.
They’ve already relocated from Franklin Field — they were sharing the field with the women’s lacrosse team and then the baseball team — and before that another Penn Park field, where the men’s soccer team was practicing.
“This doesn’t usually happen,” says Copeland, who’s wearing Penn football shorts emblazoned with the number 52. He switched from No. 98 to No. 52 after his freshman season, sharing it with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
It doesn’t usually happen. But now as former Penn athletes training for the NFL, Copeland, offensive lineman Joe Bonadies and punter Scott Lopano have to make their own time for football. And while some students are participating in job interviews in offices or conference rooms, this trio’s job interviews take place in the weight room and on the football field.
On Monday, they will participate in an NFL pro day at Villanova with 15 other college players, where they hope to impress various NFL and Canadian Football League (CFL) scouts.
“It’s a job interview,” the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Bonadies said while recovering from a strength workout in a 54-degree ice bath. “Because this is what we want our profession to be.”
Everything the diverse trio has done — Bonadies the offensive lineman, Copeland the jacked defensive end/linebacker and Lopano the lanky punter — has been in preparation for this interview.
Since the first week of December, it’s been lifts and agility drills four times a week, eating right, sleeping well, not partying, taking care of their bodies and staying constantly focused on the prize. It’s different than the last four years of training they’ve done, because they’re preparing for specific drills and tests.
And they’re doing it with just two training partners and guidance from their agents as well as strength and conditioning coach Steven Brindle, rather than 92 training partners and a slew of coaches and staffers.
“You’re training for a specific list, specific exercise or you’re trying to make a specific gain,” Bonadies said.
Monday they’ll go through the full strength and agility tests that are featured at the NFL Combine and NFL Regional Combines: bench press, 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle, 60-yard shuttle, vertical jump and broad jump. They’ll do positional drills and measurements as well.
Bonadies has been through this before, as he attended the New York Jets’ Regional Combine two weeks ago. And Lopano has attended two kicking camps in Arizona and Florida already.
Copeland, on the other hand, is coming into the process green, as his Regional Combine is this Saturday in his hometown of Baltimore.
“I’m anxious,” Copeland said. “I’m not nervous at this point.”
He had originally intended to participate in the Jets combine with Bonadies, but a minor knee injury during his training sidelined him.
“I just wanted to give myself a lot of time to heal up … and make sure I’m fully ready before I go out there and put up numbers … [because] you can’t take them back,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I was ready.”
Plus, he’ll have a day and a half to rest and relax at home with family, celebrate the 70th birthday of his granddad — a former Baltimore Colts player and Super Bowl winner — and get some looks from Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who’s been in touch with Copeland’s agent, Ed Wasielewski.
“I’m kind of on their radar a little bit,” Copeland said. “So I figured it’d be good to go and get in front of someone who’s actually going to take a look at me.”
And in the last 14 weeks, he’s focused on making himself a more versatile player. He’s cut weight since the season ended — from 275 to a more comfortable 259, where he played his first three years at Penn — and has developed into a hybrid defensive end that can pass rush as an outside linebacker.
“I’m the right size and have the speed to play hybrid defensive end like [the Dallas Cowboys’] DeMarcus Ware or [the Denver Broncos’] Von Miller and come off the edge and pass rush, but also be able to drop into coverage,” he said.
It’s a win-win-win. His versatility will be more appealing to potential scouts, he likes the position itself and he’ll inherently play better at a weight where he’s more comfortable.
If he performs to his abilities this week — 4.65 in the 40, 7.25 in the 60-yard shuttle, 30 reps on the bench, 120 inches in the broad jump and 36 inches in the vertical — he’ll be in good shape among his peers, especially in raw speed and strength.
Monday he’ll test as a defensive end, doing defensive line drills in addition to linebacker drills and short dropbacks into coverage.
He’s ready for anything, though. Wasielewski told him about a player at last week’s Lehigh pro day who was testing at linebacker but was asked to line up at fullback and do those drills. They need to be ready to do anything.
Having a combine under his belt is certainly helping Bonadies, especially with his confidence.
He posted a personal-best 4.49 in the 20-yard shuttle run, which would have been the fourth fastest at offensive line at the NFL Combine last month.
This performance takes the pressure off a bit, but he wasn’t happy with his 40 time and is focused on improving that.
Bonadies is also hoping to put up 20 bench reps at 225 pounds, which would put him in the middle of the pack among offensive linemen.
“I was definitely nervous at the Jets obviously, and I think it was good for me going forward so I can know what to expect, so I can be more mentally ready,” Bonadies said.
Special-teamers like Lopano, on the other hand, go through a somewhat different process.
He attended a camp for college seniors run by former NFL special teams coach Gary Zauner, where Zauner ranked him as a top-five punter.
The following week, he participated in a similar camp that also included non-college free agents, where he was recommended as a good kicker/punter combo option.
As a combo, Lopano could go to the CFL, which carries only one punter or kicker, or free up an NFL roster spot for another player.
“[Scouts are] thinking, ‘All right, if I can save a head and just bring one guy who can back up both of them, and challenge both of them, then I’ll do that and I’ll get a Copeland instead of another punter,’” Lopano explained.
All three are optimistic about their chances, albeit most likely in free agency. But since day one, they’ve been in it together.
They have a role model in offensive lineman Greg Van Roten, who went undrafted and unsigned until the night before training camp started. He ended the season on the special teams unit and as a backup center for the 2012 NFC North champion Green Bay Packers.
Van Roten sent the trio an email after Penn’s season ended encouraging them to do whatever was necessary to get to the NFL.
They took it to heart, and pushed each other when they needed it, taking on an underdog mentality. Last week they eased up on their training and are excited to perform.
Copeland’s granddad has a saying, a way of approaching the game of football. He says it doesn’t matter if the opponent is bigger, stronger, or faster.
“If you put us both in the trash can, I’m coming out alive,” Copeland said. “At the end of the day, it’s football. Before we line up I’m not going to ask you what school you went to … no, it’s just a fight.”
And now it’s time to fight.
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