Keketrius Copeland, the mother of University of Arkansas defensive line target Kemari Copeland, was apprehensive when her son mentioned a visit to Fayetteville. Her uneasiness was no more after making a trip to Northwest Arkansas.
Kemari Copeland, 6-3, 285 pounds, of Iowa Western Community College, released a top eight of Arkansas, Arizona State, Kansas, Auburn, Virginia Tech, Central Florida, North Carolina State and Tennessee on Nov. 2.
He, his mother and father along with younger brother Zion made an official visit to Arkansas for the Missouri game on Nov. 24.
"When my son presented to us that he was considering Arkansas as one of his top schools," said Mrs. Copeland, who lives in Virginia Beach, Va., "I was a little taken back with the distance and everything and I was like, 'Arkansas? Do you know how far that is? Are you sure?' He said 'Mom, I kind of did my research on all the coaches and based off of that Arkansas is one of the schools I want to visit.' "
Keketrius Copeland had hip surgery on the Tuesday before the visit and almost didn't make the trip.
"At first I thought about just letting him and his dad go, but I've always been really involved and I know if I send him to Arkansas and he loved it, I would regret not going," she said.
She and her son both agree the visit exceeded their expectations.
"I was glad that I did [visit] because they truly, truly exceeded our expectations of Arkansas," she said. "Not just the area which is beautiful but also the school, the staff. To learn they graduate 100% of their ball players was huge to me. The academic team, I believe they're the only staff that I've spoken with that actually graduates 100% of their ball players and that was big to me and just learning about their academic team.
"First and foremost education is always first for me and then the coaching staff. I mean, I can't -- it was nothing short of amazing. The coaching staff was very genuine. They were very upfront. They were what you see is what you get. Like I told the coaches before coming, I can talk all day over the phone but I need to be in your presences because my discernment will tell me everything I need to know. I didn't have great thoughts coming. In my mind, there's no way I'm sending him to Arkansas but after leaving I would say Arkansas is definitely in my top three."
After the Arkansas trip, the younger Copeland mentioned plans to make an official visit to Virginia Tech on Dec. 15. He also spoke of a possible visit to North Carolina State should Iowa Western lose to Kilgore College in the national semifinals on Sunday. He visited Tennessee prior to his Arkansas trip.
Razorback defensive line coach Deke Adams, who heads up the recruitment of Kemari, along with the other coaches won her over.
"The coaching staff is amazing," Mrs. Copeland said. "They're genuine people, down-to-earth people. I want to send my son to a school where he'll be surrounded by people that he can go to when football gets hard and times get tough which they will and I feel like the people he would be surrounded with at Arkansas definitely fit that expectation and beyond."
Mrs. Copeland and her family had the same line of thinking about Arkansas that others have when visiting for the first time.
"Fayetteville, when you hear Arkansas, it's like I expect to fly in and see cows everywhere and hay flying everywhere," she said. "It was like, 'This is Arkansas?' Like I read something that said Arkansas is like a hidden gem and something like that and I can definitely see that."
Northwest Arkansas could possibly become the family's future home.
"My husband is in the military, he's been in the Navy for 24 years so coming up on retirement and we've been trying to visit states that we would actually retire in and I would've never said Arkansas would be the on that list," she said. "But I promise you I told my husband 'Hey, we might need to consider Arkansas.' "
In May, U.S. News & World Report named Fayetteville as one of the top 10 cities in the nation to live and No. 1 among SEC towns for the eighth consecutive year. The Razorback coaches talked up the quality of life in Northwest Arkansas to the Copelands.
"I'm telling you, I never knew about it," she said. "It's definitely a hidden gem."
Email Richard Davenport at [email protected]