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Florida A&M ’backer is ‘what we stand for’

By Michelle Brutlag Hosick
NCAA.org

In many ways, Brandon Hepburn is an extraordinary human being. He walked on to the Florida A&M football team while carrying a full academic load in biochemistry. During his summer internship, he successfully found a way to kill certain cancer cells in rats using copper-loaded nanoparticles. He dreams of owning a biochemical company so he can lead research that will eradicate deadly diseases.

Not too many people his age have a resume like that.

But in other ways, Hepburn is an ordinary college student. He’s especially fond of the word “awesome.” When he presented his research to the American Chemical Society in San Diego, it was his first time “on that side of the country.” With his teammates, he’s just “one of the guys” who can always be counted on to break into a gospel song or contemporary hit. And if the NFL comes calling, he’ll put his cancer research and business ownership on hold to keep playing the game he’s loved since the third grade.

For Florida A&M coach Joe Taylor, Hepburn is a godsend. A devoutly Christian student-athlete who chose the school because of the academic offerings, Brandon serves as an ever-present reminder to Taylor’s other student-athletes of all that’s possible.

“As a coach, you always tell guys that whatever they want to become, there is somebody who is already it, so I tell them to do a lot of reading and research,” Taylor said. “But with Brandon, here’s a role model who is right in the midst of these guys. He’s a perfect example of what can happen once you put your mind to it.”

While Taylor waxes poetic about his star player, Hepburn merely says it’s a “privilege” and “a blessing” to be an example for his teammates.

“I know oftentimes in the black community it’s hard to find a father figure or a big brother to talk to,” he said. “Coming here to this program, I knew I had my coaches to talk through any of my life problems. It’s awesome that I have the chance to give back when I’m still playing.”

Hepburn believes he is most successful when he is putting both his mind and his body to work. He acknowledged that playing Division I football and succeeding in the classroom can be challenging. But, he said, keeping his body on task helps him academically. His theory is proven – he received his degree last May and will finish his graduate degree in, at most, three semesters.

“The athletics part of it, the physical part, it goes hand-in-hand with the mental,” he said. “It seems overwhelming when you first start, but I’ve been doing this for four years now. It’s just second nature. It’s awesome to be able to match the intensity physically as well as mentally.”

The president of Florida A&M’s chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Hepburn takes his faith seriously. Like Taylor, he believes football is a ministry through which he can educate people about spirituality.

“As athletes, we’re oftentimes put on a pedestal. We have to remember that it’s not about us, but about giving glory to God through what we do,” Hepburn said. “I thank God that he’s given me a great platform to lead others and teach others as he taught me to love him.”

Taylor said NFL scouts are visiting Rattler practices, attracted by Hepburn’s leadership, commitment, character and skills as a linebacker. Brandon said he’ll stick with football as long as football sticks with him, but he knows that the game will end for him at some point. And he’s spending his years at Florida A&M making sure that the years after football are just as fulfilling as the years he plays.

“You can’t play the game forever. What are you going to do afterward?” Hepburn pondered. “Find what you like to do. Really pray about it and seek God’s will. He will see you through.”

Whether Hepburn joins an NFL team in 2013 or begins pursuing his dreams in biochemistry, Taylor knows he’s coached a true student-athlete who epitomizes the term.

“To have an example like Brandon lets you know that good things are still happening in collegiate athletics,” he said. “He’s what we stand for.”

 

About Brandon Hepburn

Position: Linebacker at Florida A&M.

Class: Senior.

Majors: Earned a degree in biochemistry; currently pursuing a graduate degree in the field.

Honors: 2012 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team nominee for his work with the homeless.

What you didn’t know: Hepburn has been teaching himself to play piano over the past few months.