Terrell Kopping is still in college but the UW-Eau Claire senior already is well on his way to making his football dreams come true.
Starting quarterback for the Blugolds? Nope.
Try volunteer football coach for several Chippewa Valley youth football programs and an advocate for young athletes.
“When I’m done with college, I want to run my own strength and conditioning camps, and I want them to be free,” says Kopping, a kinesiology-rehabilitation science major from Rice Lake. “I also want to be a high school coach so I can work on changing how high school coaches interact with their players.”
Raised by his mother and grandparents in a low-income household in northern Wisconsin, Kopping didn’t have the money to pay for the expensive off-season sports camps that many of his teammates attended. He also didn’t have the time for them since he worked to help support his family.
The lack of off-season training often meant less playing time and, even more frustrating, less respect from his coaches, says Kopping, who competed in football and wrestling throughout high school.
“I was working to pay the bills,” Kopping says. “I still worked out and stayed in shape, but I didn’t get the respect because I didn’t go to the camps. That bothered me a lot.”
Rather than complain about it, Kopping is trying to do something positive to change a youth sports culture that he thinks is leaving kids — especially those from low socioeconomic families — behind.
During his years as a Blugold, Kopping has coached several Eau Claire area youth football teams, embracing coaching strategies that he says help build kids’ confidence along with their football skills.
By making practices and games fun for everyone on the team, regardless of their skills, his players are learning to work together, to respect themselves and others, and to love the sport, Kopping says.
“I want kids to play to have fun and build strong, healthy relationships,” Kopping says. “I don’t focus on winning when I coach. I interact with the kids and want them to feel valued, like they can take risks.”
His approach seems to be working, Kopping says, noting that his teams have had winning records as well as athletes who are eager to play year after year.
Kopping’s passion for coaching and his commitment to the young athletes has impressed his players’ parents as well as his fellow coaches.
Matt Williams, head coach of a youth football team that Kopping helped coach, says the Blugold’s dedication to the young athletes is impressive and his coaching style is inspiring.
“He connects with our boys and they enjoy his presence and skills,” Williams says of Kopping. “He took it upon himself to lead them in skill training, prepare them in off season and continues to work with them to build their future in sports. It’s been a great pleasure, and these boys look up to him.
“I’ve never seen kids so excited to run until Terrell helped me coach football.”
Kim Bruesewitz, whose son, Mason, played on a team Kopping coaches, agrees.
“Terrell has coached my son since third grade and has been such an incredible role model for him,” Bruesewitz says. “He focused on learning and having fun, which helped my son fall in love with the sport. I am so grateful that Terrell chose to volunteer his time while he was in college to help kids in our community.”
Growing up he had plenty of what he calls “old-school” coaches who liked to yell, but he also had coaches who showed him what he believes effective coaching in youth sports should look like, Kopping says.
For example, in high school, one of the assistant football coaches realized that that Kopping was struggling on the field so he took time after practices to go over plays while also asking about his life outside of football. It was through those conversations that Kopping finally admitted to his coach that he was wearing worn-out and too-small cleats because he couldn’t afford to buy new ones.
“He took the time to talk to me and to try to understand what was going on in my life,” Kopping says, noting that the coach also helped him come up with a plan to earn money to buy new cleats. “Instead of yelling at me about what I was doing wrong, he took the time to show me how to do it right. He asked questions and made it clear that all his players were more than their position or number.
“He made me feel like I was somebody and like we were on the same team. That’s what I want to do for kids and teens as a coach.”
Coaches need to understand the impact that they have on young athletes, Kopping says, noting that the impact — good or bad — can be lifelong.
“This is really a passion of mine,” Kopping says. “I want coaches to take their roles seriously because they can make a big difference in someone’s life for a long time, not just when they’re on a team.”
In addition to coaching youth football teams, Kopping also runs a summer strength and conditioning camp for 10-15 Eau Claire area youth.
While free sports camps and volunteer coaching are a big part of his personal aspirations, Kopping has set some lofty professional goals as well, goals also shaped by his childhood experiences.
Kopping’s mother and grandparents shared parenting responsibilities when he was growing up, so he is close to all three of his primary caregivers.
“I loved having what was basically three parents, but that also means that two of my parents are 70 years old,” Kopping says of his grandparents. “As I see them age, I feel helpless. By going into a career in health care, I feel like I can help and understand them better.”
His grandfather has had several heart attacks, the first one when Kopping was a young boy and then two more when he was a teen.
Kopping was fascinated by the physical therapists who worked with his grandfather after the heart attacks, he says, crediting them with helping his grandfather regain his strength.
“They are why he was able to play catch with me again,” Kopping says of the physical therapists.
Now in his final year at UW-Eau Claire, Kopping is applying to graduate schools, with plans to eventually work as a geriatric or pediatric physical therapist.
Kopping came to UW-Eau Claire as a kinesiology major but switched to education thinking that might be a better fit because he loves working with kids.
However, while he enjoyed his education classes, once he got into an actual school classroom, he realized teaching wasn’t the right career for him.
He switched back to being a kinesiology major, this time pursuing a degree in the kinesiology-rehabilitation science program, a new major being offered at UW-Eau Claire that aligns perfectly with his interests, Kopping says. When he graduates in the spring, he will be among the first Blugolds to graduate from the program.
That same summer, Kopping was working as a counselor for a Blugold Beginnings camp when one of the young campers introduced him to his father, Dr. Jeff Janot, professor of kinesiology and chair of the kinesiology department.
After they met, Janot told Kopping that he now was Kopping’s advisor. In the years since, Janot has been a trusted friend and a valuable resource, playing a big role in helping him succeed in college and plan for his future, Kopping says.
“He’s super cool; I’m very lucky I have him,” Kopping says of Janot. “We’ve built a really good relationship. He’s a huge resource for me. My mom has an associate degree but I’m the only one in my family earning a four-year degree and who’s going to graduate school. So, this is all new to me and no one in my family can help me with it. Dr. Janot makes sure I’m focusing on the right things.”
In addition to his studies, Kopping, who is in the University Honors program, also works 30-40 hours a week at two group homes, one for adults with traumatic brain injuries and another for adults who have other challenges.
He also works with the Wounded Warrior Project, helping military veterans with stretching, physical therapy and social rehabilitation, as well as on mental health issues related to their service.
Through his classes, Kopping has worked with UW-Eau Claire’s PRIDE program, which provides physical fitness classes to young people in the community who have disabilities, and the university’s community fitness program, helping adults develop fitness routines designed specifically for them.
“Dr. Janot is always there to help me keep everything balanced,” Kopping says of trying to manage his academics, work and volunteer activities. “Academics have been a challenge, but I’ve done well. It’s been a good challenge. I wish I could have worked less but that wasn’t possible.
“It’s just been a really good experience to be here because there are so many opportunities on campus and in the community.”
Wherever life takes him after graduation, Kopping says his heart always will be in Eau Claire.
“Eau Claire is the first place that really feels like home to me,” Kopping says. “Eau Claire is the first place I have ever felt really accepted and where I feel like I’m part of a community. Eau Claire is always going to feel like home to me.”
Top photo caption: Senior Terrell Kopping has been coaching area youth football teams throughout his years as a student at UW-Eau Claire.