Kenneth Copley

Kenneth Copley

Kenneth Copley, one of the top athletes in a loaded Sugar-Salem senior class, signed a letter of intent to wrestle at NAIA Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona.

Despite schools being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Copley was able to sign in a reasonably normal fashion, meeting with a couple of family members and friends at school where he signed on Thursday.

Copley, a two-time 3A state heavyweight champion and standout lineman for the Diggers’ football team, had a visit to Embry-Riddle scheduled but it was canceled due to the virus. Embry-Riddle head wrestling coach KC Rock and Sugar-Salem alum and Embry-Riddle wrestler Caleb Norman told Copley all about the Arizona college.

Rock was determined to get to know Copley personally so the two talked regularly on video conferences.

“He kind of talked about campus life, the academics there, the (mechanical engineering) program there,” Copley said. “We talked about our personal lives making that connection before making a coach and player connection kind of being good friends first. We went off on tangents about almost everything I feel like. We just talked a lot and definitely developed a good connection there.”

Norman had wrestled at Embry-Riddle for a year.

“He just said it was a great school,” Copley said of Norman. “It’s ranked highly academically, you have to keep up on your homework and he said it’s a good program. It’s harder than high school. It’s a good challenge and definitely the next step. If that’s the step I want to take that’s definitely the right place to be to do it.”

Norman had high praise for the school’s engineering program and the weather in Arizona.

Embry-Riddle racked up a few accolades last year including spending weeks in the NAIA coaches poll top-10, winning the scholar All-American team championship in NAIA and having three all-Americans in the NAIA National Tournament.

“I would say we are very good,” Norman said.

“I just like that they have kind of a smaller team and they’re definitely in the running for a national championship in their division,” Copley added. “It’s nice to go into a program that has a nice head of steam but still needs some work.”

The biggest factor in Copley choosing Embry-Riddle was academics. The school has a mechanical engineering program ranked 90 out 378 colleges ranked by niche.com, meaning it’s in the top quarter of engineering programs in the nation.

“So when they offered me a while back, I definitely didn’t overlook them and took them seriously and worked it out to a good offer and progressed it out from there,” Copley said.

Though it’s real on paper, the feeling of going to college hasn’t really sunk for Copley yet.

“It’s just kind of unreal at this moment,” he said. “I’ve always grown up wanting to go play college football and go wrestle in college. Everything I’ve done for the past five years has kind of prepared me for this. Now that it’s actually set, it’s actually going to happen, it just hasn’t really clicked you know. It doesn’t feel like it’s actually happening already and it’s nice to know that I have a school that’s giving me this much money to get a great degree and to wrestle there. I’m trying to settle into it right now and figure out my groove with it and take the next steps.”