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05/24/2024 03:21 AM

Captain Coppola Inspires and Motivates Others for Branford Track

Sam Coppola has served as a three-season runner for the Branford cross country and track teams, and he was a solid captain for the Hornets boys’ outdoor track team this spring. Photo courtesy of Sam Coppola

Throughout the years, Sam Coppola has logged several miles for the various Branford High School running programs he has participated in. Yet it has been the final leg of his Hornets’ run that has served as arguably the most instrumental.

The Branford senior distance runner started running as a club sport in elementary school. He then took part in soccer, wrestling, and cross country at Walsh Intermediate School, where he met former Branford track Head Coach Rich Biondi. From there, he moved onto Branford High School and decided to become a sprinter for all seasons–taking part in cross country along with indoor and outdoor track. He has assumed the role of a senior captain this spring for the boys’ outdoor squad and has been a cornerstone of the Hornets’ running corps.

“In my opinion, running is one of the hardest sports both mentally and physically. You have to work hard at it every day to see progress. But the type of encouragement I have had from my coaches has made it enjoyable,” says Sam. “My success has come from being pushed by my teammates. I have had some really good competitors for teammates through the years. They have helped me push myself to work even harder for my senior year. I hope I have created a look for others of what a senior athlete should look like.”

When looking at the various lengths of heats he runs both inside and out in the open air, Sam loves to take on the task of trying to store the speed with middle distance events. Yet when it comes to the spring season, he loves going that extra mile many times over.

“For indoor, I love the 600 because it is a change-up from the other events I do there,” says Sam. “It is really enjoyable, and saving my endurance for other races was a fun challenge. I feel in the outdoor season, the mile is my strong suit. It is an event where I feel in my comfort zone.”

Sam denotes that there is a proud pedigree he is looking to help uphold with the Hornets. The boys look to always make things entertaining and create deep bonds through several functions and simply acting as a teammate’s biggest supporter during performances.

“The most important thing here is the tradition we try to push for the guys competing for the program now and for the future athletes,” Sam says. “When we are able to have team events and practices where we switch things up to make it more fun, it makes us better and stronger as a group. Even during meets, no one is sitting there doing nothing, and everyone is cheering others on.”

In the stewardship role, Sam has sunk his teeth into the job. He never slacks on any challenge or asks for any preferential treatment, as he reaches out and encourages each colleague as his equal.

“It has been a fantastic experience being a captain so far,” says Sam. “I have enjoyed leading this team with the help of my other captains. Being captain is really special, and so I want to make sure to uphold the responsibility of it. I face any problems head on, and I have tried to make the most of what it means to be a captain.”

Branford boys’ outdoor track Head Coach Christian Miller explains that Sam is someone who thrives on pressure and hardships when churning his legs through the running lanes. As a captain, his words carry the same potency as his actions by being a near perfect template of what characteristics a captain should embody.

“Sam Coppola has been with the track and cross country program at Branford for four years, and he has always shown a great deal of commitment and dedication to the sport. As a distance runner, he understands the importance of overcoming adversity and the power of persistence,” says Miller. “This year as captain of the outdoor track team, he has stepped up to lead in a different way. Some athletes inspire with their speed, others with their spirit. Sam embodies the latter, leading by example with his sportsmanship and integrity of character. He has shown true grit this year and has been a model captain. Every practice he speaks to the team and is an example of what a true leader should be. As an athlete, he is available and willing to compete to his fullest without complaint. He knows how to communicate with the athletes and coaches alike; he is organized, and he is responsible. It has been a pleasure to coach this young man and watch him develop as a leader.”

The sport of track and the lifestyle it brings about is not something Sam was familiar with right from the starting blocks. Still, the grueling grind of the chase for the finish line only made him that much more mentally and physically durable.

“My mental game and its development has taken a lot of work from me. My freshman year, I did not know a lot about track,” says Sam. “It took until my junior year to develop that mentality to push through even when you are tired or hurting. You have to do that because it will be worth it in the end and makes you do things you didn't think you could do.”

While additionally navigating the pandemic as a rookie with a small bunch, the Hornets grew in great lengths over the years. But most importantly, and what has certainly served Branford quite well, they never lost that close-knit kinship.

“My freshman year was a covid year, and so we had a small team, but we became closer because of that,” says Sam. “Our team has gotten bigger through the years, but our team still had that family feel. I feel we have shown what the Branford track community is really like, and that all really helped my experience here. We were always standing by each other no matter what.”