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2013-10-25

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Andrew Copp: Off the gridiron, onto the ice

By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published October 24, 2013

Andrew Copp sat at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube three years ago, facing one of the defining moments of his young athletic career.

He had waited so long for this occasion — essentially his entire life.

At the end of August, before his junior year at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor even began, Andrew sat with his father, Andy, listening to coaches from the U.S. U-18 National Team Development Program. They presented Andrew with an opportunity, one that had fallen into place in just a short time: the chance to play hockey while representing his country.

The privilege is afforded to less than 25 young men each year. The group travels the country to play against the best college talent and garners the attention of college coaches and most importantly, National Hockey League scouts.

Andrew had tried out for the team in March, but didn’t make it. Now, he sat staring down his second chance at fulfilling “a dream,” as his father would later say.

But there was one caveat.

“You’ll have to quit football,” they would tell the starting quarterback.

Quit? Surely, there must be a way to do both. They wouldn’t leave him with that ultimatum, would they?

“I can’t. I can’t quit on my team. I can’t let those people down. I can’t walk out on these people now,” Andrew would recall.

So he didn’t. Now there’s no hesitation in his voice when he speaks. He glances back up and continues his story. Andrew’s gotten used to repeating it, now.

“I guess looking back on it, it was kind of dumb,” Andrew said with a laugh.

“I wasn’t 100-percent excited about the decision,” his father added.

Yet behind the disappointment and the frustration, Andrew’s life fell into place five months later, putting him on his path to Michigan.

Three years after that fateful day, Andrew is an alternate captain for the Michigan hockey team as a sophomore forward, waiting for his time to join the Winnipeg Jets organization. Once again in his life, Andrew finds himself at the center of an organization. And at the center of Andrew is his character.

“I think that’s what really defines his character level,” his father said. “That he was willing to turn down his dream, because of his responsibility to his football team.”

Andrew’s character level has come to define his work ethic. His work ethic has come to define how he performs in a game. And his performance could be what defines the Wolverines this year.

***

Andrew Copp grew up in a hockey family. Like so many of his teammates, he has played since he was young and hasn’t stopped.

“Since he could walk,” Andy said.

His father has been a hockey coach for nearly all of Andrew’s life for the Compuware teams a short drive away in Plymouth, Mich.

Andrew’s mother was a figure skating coach for the Wolverines, making her living on the ice. His brother, meanwhile, is also a hockey player.

Andrew’s father wasn’t a standout NHL player or a college star, but he loved the game — something his son has picked up as well.

When he wasn’t on the ice, Andrew spent his time watching more hockey, idolizing players like Michigan’s first Hobey Baker winner and Vancouver Canuck, Brendan Morrison. And when he wasn’t watching it on the TV or playing on the ice, Andrew travelled the 15 minutes to campus to watch Michigan play at Yost.

“Hockey was always his first, and his second, commitment,” Andy said.

Andrew’s family owned season tickets for much of his childhood, where he witnessed the great players like Morrison and goaltender Marty Turco on the ice.

Andrew, though, had his chance to follow his childhood dream by accepting the position on the U.S. NTDP — which regularly fed players into Michigan. He turned down that future.

***

Andrew Copp was a natural, even though organized tackle football was never a reality until he was 14 years old and a freshman in high school.

At Emerson School, a K-8 school 20 minutes west of Ann Arbor, Andrew didn’t have the opportunities to compete in anything outside of basketball or track, so he competed in flag football on weekends in the fall and baseball in the summer. Hockey was always his No. 1 priority, though. After eighth grade, Andrew sat down with his parents at home and discussed his future.

Andrew wasn’t keen on going to a private school in Ann Arbor. And with a new public school opening nearby to relieve the overcrowded Ann Arbor Pioneer and Huron High Schools, there was one likely choice.


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