Aug. 12, 2008
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While you'll find Brett Upson punting for the 'Dores during football season, you'll find him in a police car in Griffin, Ga., during the offseason. He's not there because of something he did, rather it's something he's chosen to do.
Since his junior year of high school, Upson has been preparing for a career in law enforcement by volunteering with the Griffin Police Department as a ride-along intern. Even now as a rising junior at Vanderbilt, Upson religiously makes the four-and-a-half-hour drive home most every weekend during the offseason.
"That commitment takes a lot on his part and tells a lot about the type of person Brett is," said Drew Jackson, one of the two Griffin police officers Upson rides with.
Just as he has each year since arriving in Nashville, Upson is spending his summer in his hometown volunteering with the Griffin Police Department. While most college students will be fetching coffee during their summer internships, Upson will be taking part in high-speed chases and trying to put a "good lick on drugs."
"It is a big adrenaline rush," said Upson, the SEC Specialist of the Week after Vanderbilt's victory at South Carolina last season. "Every day, there is always something new that is going to happen. You see 100 different things a day."
Upson's interest in law enforcement came from his grandfather, Wallace Upson, who was a police officer in Griffin for 35 years.
"I would always hear stories growing up about how great of a person he was," Upson said of his grandpa, who passed away last October. "I always looked up to him for who he was."
Now Upson is following in his grandpa's footsteps as a ride-along intern, where he spends his days in the car with Jackson or fellow officer Jeremy Bennett. While on the job, Upson is responsible for handling all of the paperwork, radio traffic and the lighting of the car. Since he is not a certified police officer, he does not carry a weapon.
Not having a weapon does bring some risk, but Upson has full confidence in Jackson and Bennett to protect him. To lessen the risk, Upson remains in the car during calls and does not leave until he receives word that the situation has been secured.
"Sometimes I do (have fear), but I also know that the guys that I ride with are going to protect me and keep me out of the way," Upson said. "If it is something where they know something is going to happen or they think something might happen, they will keep me out of harm's way."
Even though he has stayed far out of harm's way, it hasn't kept Upson from witnessing some scary situations.
"Probably the most frightening time that Brett has ever had was when we had a standoff from a guy who had already fired some rounds, and we were the first ones on the scene," Jackson said. "That was a pretty hairy time because the guy had me at gunpoint, and I had him at gunpoint. It was a standoff for about 20 minutes before he finally gave up. That was probably the scariest situation he has witnessed."
Despite witnessing dicey situations such as that, Upson keeps coming back wanting to learn more. Since joining the department, Upson has had the opportunity to work in areas such as the crime lab, narcotics unit and canine unit.
The department recognizes Upson's strong interest in law enforcement and, therefore, continues to give him an opportunity to learn more about different aspects of the job.
"This summer, the department wants him to take a case and watch it as it goes completely through the system," Jackson said. "That will provide Brett with an outstanding chance to learn even more."
Opportunities to soak up as much information as he can are exactly what Upson knows he needs if he wants to reach his goal.
"I'm going to start out in local law enforcement, but I'm going to work my way up to working with U.S. Marshals, DEA or ATF. If that doesn't work out, I'd like to open up a private eye company with my experience."
No matter where Upson ends up, Jackson believes that he will be successful.
"He'll have a good basic knowledge of law enforcement when he gets there," Jackson said. "He takes it very seriously. He's learned a tremendous amount, and he's helped us out a lot. With the degree from Vanderbilt, I think he's got a good chance of jumping right into federal."
Law enforcement has not only given Upson something to shoot for as a career, it has also provided him with a perspective on life and his hometown, which he once thought was a nice, quiet town of 35,000 residents.
"Working with the police has given me a new perspective on my town," Upson said. "I never would have thought that my town is as bad as it was if I hadn't ridden with law enforcement. I've been lucky enough to only be associated with the good part of town. I'm sure it is like this with most towns, where you go a certain way and you know that it is a bad part of town, but you don't know how bad it is. It is absolutely amazing."
Upson's experience working with law enforcement may not physically help him with punting the football on Saturdays, but he believes that his experience has helped him with the mental part of being a punter.
"Mentally, when I'm on the field, I can think back to different situations I've been in that I've been a lot more nervous," Upson said. "With football, I'm out having fun. There isn't anything fun about having a situation where somebody might get hurt. I look at it like that, and it helps me out a lot."
Jackson also believes that Upson's experience in law enforcement has benefited him on the field.
"This job is very stressful, and I think it can help control your stress level," Jackson said. "I think it does help Brett in football, and it probably helps him a lot."
Even for as much that working with law enforcement has helped Upson quell his nerves on the football field, he still admits that his experience can't completely calm his nerves when he is punting out of his own endzone in front of 70,000 fans. After all, he's only human.
"I wouldn't say it doesn't bother me," Upson said. "I still get that nervous adrenaline rush that I wouldn't get any other time, but I'd say working with the police department and getting put in different pressure situations in a matter of seconds has helped me out a lot."
The experience Upson has gained in law enforcement has certainly helped him handle stressful situations during a football game, but most importantly, his experience has helped him become a difference-maker in the game of life.
"I think the experience has made me a better person," Upson said. "I've always liked to help people. One reason why I like it so much is that I want to be able to help people for a living. As a policeman, I feel like I can do that and also enjoy what I'm doing. I've always been told to enjoy what you do, and there's not been a day I haven't enjoyed."