BERKELEY -- Back in September, California running back Jeffrey Coprich was honored as one of 22 players across all levels of college football to be named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. On Tuesday, he was presented with his Allstate AFCA Good Works Team trophy in a surprise ceremony. He will head to New Orleans for the Allstate Sugar Bowl along with the rest of the Good Works Team this January.
“I had no idea,” Coprich said afterwards, when asked when the presentation stopped being a surprise, as the team gathered at midfield, and Director of Player Development Kevin Parker -- who, himself, lost his brother in an auto accident. “I’m in shock. Everybody did a good job keeping their mouths shut. They just told everybody to come up on the field, and I’m like, ‘I don’t ever go up on the field.’”
Coprich has missed the season with a broken foot.
“I’m lifting right now (normally),” Coprich said of what he normally does after practice. “I was waiting, and then, all that happened. I didn’t know it was going to be about me, but I’m so shocked. I’m surprised.”
This past week, on Friday, Coprich returned to his hometown for an event at the Essence K. Coprich Library at 116th Street Elementary School in Watts, the same library named in honor of his sister, who was killed at the age of seven in a 1996 car accident with Jeffrey, his father says, curled up in a little ball under the dashboard, somehow surviving, as the family returned from a family function.
“Being able to talk to the kids, there’s nothing like it,” Coprich said. “You can see it in their eyes, that ‘WOW’ factor. I wanted to let them know, ‘I’m just like you guys.’ I come from the same area. I’m nothing spectacular. You guys can do the same thing as me. It’s good to hear that from somebody else, other than a teacher. It feels good to go back.”
Coprich has also received the prestigious Watkins Scholar Athlete of the Year Award, given annually by the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Alliance of African American Athletes in 2012. He has also started the Unsung Heroes Awards along with his father Jeffrey Coprich Sr., founder of the L.A. Inner City Mass Choir. The program serves high school football student-athletes in the South Los Angeles area, recognizing their academic and athletic accomplishments as well as their volunteerism. In addition, he founded the Jeffrey Coprich Book Club in an effort to continually provide students with reading materials and in hopes of helping to improve reading skills of students at the school.
“This is big,” Coprich said of the Allstate award. “It’s just another thing that I can have, to represent me. I’m going to do my job to continue to go back to the community and do everything that I can, having an award under my belt, I’m going to represent it well, for sure.”
Before Coprich’s event, he stood in the tunnel at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and spoke with interim athletic director Mike Williams about his community service work, and about growing up in South Los Angeles.
“He’s had an up-and-down career on the field, at Cal, but I’ve gotten to know his family, and I’ve gotten to know Jeffrey pretty well, and he’s certainly one of the student-athletes we’re really proud of,” Williams said. “It’s an amazing story. It’s a tragic story, but what he’s done with it is very inspirational.”
Williams said that Coprich is “absolutely” the prototypical kind of student-athlete that belongs at Cal.
“Down in the tunnel at USC on Thursday night, he and I talked about growing up in L.A., growing up as a USC fan, and he talked about maybe having had the opportunity to go to USC, but he chose Cal to have a different experience, and it’s certainly worked out well for us,” Williams said. “I can’t wait to see him back on the field next year.”
Coprich attended USC 32nd Street School for middle school – on the USC campus – so he grew up a big fan of the Trojans.
“I didn’t get recruited by them, but it’s all good,” Coprich said. “I was just talking with [Williams] about how I grew up in the area, and how I faced a lot of stuff, as far as dealing with gangbanging and all that stuff. But, I was able to move out of the area, luckily, and I experienced another life, down in Valencia, which was totally different for me, being able to play in a different area. I disliked it, at first, because I was leaving all my friends, not being able to play football with them, and the people I grew up with. When I moved out to Valencia and got a chance to play out there, it was fine. It was just different. That was the basis of what we talked about – that it was good to be back home. I told him what I would be doing, going out to speak to the kids.”
The event came together approximately three weeks ago, Coprich said.
“I wanted to set something up where I could go and talk to the kids, but when I got there, I didn’t know that it would be set up like it was,” Coprich said. “I thought that I would just go in and talk to the kids, but the principal did a great job of setting everything up. I was surprised when I walked in. I was like, ‘Wow, this is great; I’m being recognized,’ and then, I got down to the nitty-gritty.”
During the event, he spoke to a gathering of fourth and fifth graders in the school’s auditorium before later reading to a group of second-grade students.
“I got to talk to the kids, which I really wanted to do,” Coprich said. “I hope I inspired some of the kids to go on a better path, to do well in class and pay attention.”
Coprich has been working with youngsters in his old community for years, now, but only recently has he realized how big a difference he’s made.
“I think it hit me when I got to college,” Coprich said. “I was able to really start honing in on the kids, and realizing that they were actually looking up to me. I’ve been around the community for a while, because my dad’s always working the community, having his famous choir and stuff like that, but it’s nothing new to me. Being able to go and talk to kids, it feels regular, like it’s nothing special, but me going back and talking to kids, I feel that, to me, it’s hard to explain. It’s something that’s needed in the community, and I think it’ll change the future of some kids by going back and talking to them.”