LEARNING CURVE: Washington native set to open The Premier Sports Academy

Published 6:49 pm Saturday, November 28, 2015

VAIL STEWART RUMLEY | DAILY NEWS FIELD OF DREAMS: Former NFL wide receiver and Washington native Terrance Copper will open The Premier Sports Academy in spring of 2016. Copper is pictured in the gymnasium of the facility in Winterville, formerly owned by Pitt County’s Community Schools and Recreation Program, in partnership with the Pitt County Girls Softball League.

FIELD OF DREAMS: Former NFL wide receiver and Washington native Terrance Copper will open The Premier Sports Academy in spring of 2016. Copper is pictured in the gymnasium of the facility in Winterville, formerly operated by the Pitt County Girls Softball League.


WINTERVILLE — It’s rare when retirement comes at the age of 31; rarer still to look at a second career in the prime of one’s life. But after nine years as an NFL wide receiver, Washington native Terrance Copper is doing exactly that, and he’s determined to make a difference.

In spring of 2016, Copper will open The Premier Sports Academy in Winterville. It’s 27,000 square feet of sports: batting cages, pitching tunnels, an arcade and a full-size gymnasium for basketball and volleyball. In the months to come, it will boast a full-size weight room, a snack/smoothie bar, retail space and lounge, in addition to a suite of offices. It comes with conditional use of the softball fields on one side; on the other, land for future football and soccer practices.

The plan has been a year and a half in the making, Copper said, but only recently was cemented with the purchase of The Zone in Winterville, a sports facility previously operated by the Pitt County Girls Softball League. He struggled to find a home for the sports academy — considered building his own; another deal fell through. So when there was a meeting of minds between Copper and softball league officials regarding taking over The Zone, he leapt at the chance.

“I appreciate the opportunity they’ve given me to make this something special,” Copper said.

Catering to sports enthusiasts — both individuals and teams — ages seven to 18, as well as college-level athletes looking for a competitive edge, The Premier Sports Academy will have a core staff of coaches with experience on the professional or collegiate stage, Copper said. The plan is to take youth and high school sports to a new level.

“We’re really (going to be) honing in on the fundamentals and details of the sport,” Copper said, adding that the aim is a low coach-to-athlete ratio, ensuring a maximum of one-on-one instruction in classes that explore the nuances of each sport.

A glance inside the place and there’s no doubt it’s a sports facility, one that will someday host sports classes. But that’s not all it’s going to be, Copper said.

Tucked into a corner of the second floor is a large room, a classroom, where academics will come first. Tutoring will be part of The Premier Sports Academy learning curve, as will an afterschool program that runs from 2:30 to 6 p.m. during the week.

Though its members will be coached through beginner, intermediate and advanced classes in baseball, soccer, football and more, there’s a higher purpose, according to Copper.

“You learn life lessons when you’re in sports — teamwork, dedication, leadership. Sports really mold you into the person you’re going to become when you’re older,” he said. “We’re just part of that bridge, to build character, confidence and the desire to be successful when you grow up.”

Within the framework of playing ball, The Premier Sports Academy’s focus will be on good sports, but also on good examples and making a positive impact on the lives of children.

Growing up, Copper said his mother worked; his grandmother took care of him, but if it wasn’t for the acts of various coaches in his life — picking him up for practice when he had no transportation; working with his teachers to make sure he was academically eligible — he wouldn’t have found success on any level, much less at the highest one, the NFL.

“Along the way, I’ve had a lot of coaches sacrifice for me, whether sharing knowledge or just being there. … That’s what I want to give back. I feel like it’s my job to do it, because it was given to me,” Copper said. “Coaches play a big part in (children’s) lives growing up — they’re role models — and that’s nothing to take lightly.”

Copper said when The Premier Sports Academy opens next year, its offerings will merely scratch the surface of the ultimate long-term goal: to build an academy melding athletics and academics, along the lines of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. A private institute offering year-round camps in tennis, football, soccer, baseball, basketball, golf, lacrosse, track and field and cross-country, IMG trains thousands of athletes of all ages and abilities, from youth soccer teams to Olympic and professional athletes. It also has an accredited pre-K to 12th-grade boarding school.

“That is really the mecca when it comes to what I’m trying to do here,” Copper said.

That’s in the future. Right now, mapping out upgrades and new construction on the Winterville facility take up much of Copper’s time, as any second chance at a career would. He refers to it as not work, but opportunity — a God-given one.

For Copper, God is a team player, one who has led him to a place of returning the gifts provided.

“He played my life,” Copper said with a smile. “I wouldn’t have had this vision if it wasn’t for him.”