A family affair: Copeland bros lead McNary football

Brothers Tyler (left) and Braiden Copeland are expected to be two of the top players in the Mountain Valley Conference this season (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

For brothers Tyler and Braiden Copeland, sibling rivalry has always been prevalent in their household.

“There was a moment right around sixth or seventh grade where you could see that it was becoming contentious and the rivalry was really increasing. It was at that moment that my wife and I sat and encouraged them to fight against the world instead of fighting against each other because they are each other’s best allies,” said Andrew Copeland, Tyler and Braiden’s father.

The brothers took their dad’s advice to heart and have now established themselves as two of the best players on the McNary football squad — Tyler will be entering his senior year while Braiden will be a junior this season.

“There are some days where we can get into pretty heated arguments, but then we can separate for 30 minutes and we are completely fine after that. It’s awesome and then we can come out here and compete. We can get a little mad at each other, but then go home and play Xbox together,” Braiden said.

During the spring football season, Tyler started at receiver and free safety while Braiden got first-team reps at receiver, running back and linebacker. In the second game of last season against McKay, the Copeland brothers got the opportunity to put their skills on full display.

On the second drive of the game, Tyler caught a long pass down the sideline for the score to put the Celtics up 14-0.

Later in the half, Braiden hauled in a touchdown pass of his own on a shallow crossing route to extend McNary’s lead to 28-0.

Not to be outdone by his little brother, Tyler extended the McNary lead to 35-0 with an incredible touchdown grab with less than two minutes remaining in the first half.

Tyler was targeted down the middle of the field in double coverage and it appeared that a McKay safety was camped under the ball after it was thrown, preparing to make the interception. But at the last moment, Tyler leapt and snagged the ball out of the air and got to the end zone for the 32-yard score.

But Braiden had a highlight-reel play of his own in the second half. On McNary’s first play of the third quarter, Braiden caught a quick slant, broke numerous tackles and rumbled 68 yards for his second score of the game.

Both Copelands had over 70 yards receiving and two touchdowns in McNary’s 42-7 rout of McKay.

“It was the moment we realized that these next couple years are going to be the Copeland show,” Tyler said. “It is really fun to be able to celebrate that.”

By the end of the six-game shortened season, Tyler had 22 catches for 376 and five touchdowns (all team-highs) and Braiden was second on the team in receiving with 16 catches for 246 yards and four scores — Braiden also rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns on the season. 

What made the season all the more special for the two brothers was that it was not only their first year on the varsity team, but that they also got to have their dad as their position coach — Andrew has been coaching the backs and receivers at McNary for the last three years.

“There are moments in life that you want to keep living over and over again, and this is that moment for me,” said Andrew, who graduated from McNary in ‘95 and played for the Celtics football team for four years. “It has honestly been a dream come true. For me to see them working hard and becoming leaders among their peers has been special.”

As underclassmen during the 2019 season, Braiden played for the McNary freshman team and Tyler was on the JV team but had to miss the entire season due to injury.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of last year, instead of sleeping in and binge-watching Netflix, both Tyler and Braiden committed themselves to a daily workout regimen with the help of their dad -— who has worked for the Keizer Police Department for nearly two decades. 

“It helped that I grew about three inches and gained about 30 pounds from my sophomore to junior year. I developed a lot just in that year. I’m striving to be a college athlete. That is really what drove me.” Tyler said.

“It was about putting in the work. Our dad was making us work out every day over the summers, getting stronger, getting bigger, doing speed work and getting out and throwing the ball,” Braiden added.

Tyler and Braiden both have a goal of playing college football one day, and based on their skill and work ethic, they are well on their way to reaching that aspiration.

“I provide the opportunities, but at the end of the day it’s their drive and their willingness to do it. They both want to play college sports and I think they are putting themselves in a good position to do that,” Andrew said. “They have worked their butts off to get to where they are at.”

Despite being one of the top receivers in the area last season, Tyler has played quarterback for nearly his entire football career and will be returning to his primary position for his senior season.

“It’s obviously an important position to have on your ball club. We’re losing a very good receiver with him switching positions, but Tyler has a strong arm, he’s a good athlete and a good leader for us. I think he will excel at the quarterback position,” McNary head coach Jeff Auvinen said.

After spending last season in an internal competition with Braiden for better stats, Tyler now will be the one throwing instead of catching — and his favorite target will likely be his brother.

“Last year it was all about who could get more yards and who could score more touchdowns,” Braiden said. “This year there will definitely be a dynamic change. But Tyler is a good leader. He comes out here and makes people better.”

“He is pretty easy to work with. There is definitely a brother connection there,” Tyler added “We have a special bond. I can’t wait to see what we can do on the field this year.”

Matt Rawlings: [email protected]