Parkside C.I. athlete one of Canada's top up and coming kickers in football
Tuesday, September 3, 2019
By Rob J. Ross
ST. THOMAS - If a dream becomes reality, Zach Copeland may one day be wearing the colours of a Canadian Football League (CFL) team, running on to the field ready to make a crucial punt or game winning field goal.
For now, Copeland, a Grade 12 student at Parkside Collegiate Institute, will help lead the school's senior football team in the upcoming Thames Valley Regional Athletics (TVRA) season.
"That would be the ultimate goal for me (CFL). I think it's achievable if I keep working hard," said Copeland, one of the top young kickers in Canada, who spent this summer showcasing his skills at two major youth football events.
First it was the CFC (Canada Football Chat.com) Prospects Game, broadcasted on TSN, followed by the Canada Cup with Team Ontario, a week long tournament held at Queen's University in Kingston.
From five tryouts across Canada, Copeland was one of about 60 players selected for the prospects game, June 1st, at TD Place Stadium, in Ottawa.
"I was excited when I found out I was going," said Zach, the son of Jim and Jan Copeland, from St Thomas. "It was an awesome experience and just the competitive environment of it will help me be a better football player. I'll be lot more prepared for competition."
As the punter for Team Matt Dunnigan, Copeland had six punts, two over 70 yards, averaging 42 yards for his net punt yards in the game. He also held the ball for the kicker.
"Those were my highlights of the game," said Copeland. "I was happy with my net yards. I never held before, but the kicker made both of his PAT (point after touchdown) and his field goal."
Having a CFL legend (Dunnigan) as a coach, is an additional lasting memory.
"To see him in real life was cool," Copeland said. "He would come by and give us tips about everything. How he talked football, you could tell he knew what he was talking about."
Copeland was at the Canada Cup during the first two weeks in July, a National tournament between the provinces. It was a week of training, followed by games against British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
"I did kicking, punting and kick offs in every game. It was a lot of fun," Copeland said. "I kicked an on-side kick and we recovered it (versus Alberta). We needed a touchdown but we couldn't get the ball into the end zone. It was pretty exciting. It was the first on-side kick I've actually kicked and we've gotten."
Ontario lost the bronze medal game to Alberta, 22-21, after trailing by three touchdowns. Ontario went for the win, attempting a two-point convert but failed.
"It was a very close game," recalls Copeland. "Some of the 50/50 plays, they won more of them."
Over the three games, Copeland had three field goals and two rouges (ball through the end zone), including a 75-yard monster boot on a kick-off. Twice Copeland pinned the Alberta offence deep with two huge punts.
"I had a great time and I met a lot of great people," said Copeland, calling the Canada Cup the biggest event of his career. "The experience will definitely make me a better football player."
Copeland only started playing football three years ago, in his Grade nine year at Parkside. Before then it was soccer and hockey.
Copeland also plays basketball and competes in javelin, discus and relays, during the high school track and field season.
"I've always had a big leg in soccer," Copeland says. "My mom used to coach football at Parkside. She would always have to find a soccer player to be the kicker. She always told me I'd be good at it in high school. So I tried it and ended up really liking it."
So much that Copeland began weekly training with Lirim Hajrullahu (Hamilton Tiger-Cats kicker and 2017 Grey Cup champion with Toronto) and Dale Wheeler, both with Elite Kicking Specialists, at the BMO Centre in London, Ontario.
"I like my transformation from Grade nine when I had no experience to now," said Copeland. "You can see they made me a lot better kicker."
Parkside won the Thames Valley Region Association junior football championship when Copeland was in Grade 10 and also the team's quarterback. He was a defensive back last year, along with kicking duties, his first with the senior team, coached by former CFLer Jason Congdon, a long snapper and linebacker during his career.
"He knows everything that he is talking about. It's always good having him there. He can always help me with all types of stuff," said Copeland, already receiving offers from several Canadian universities.
Then that may just lead Copeland to be staring down the uprights in the CFL.