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Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Brandon Culpepper of PeppNation

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A new school year is about to get underway, and that means a lot of high school kids will be turning their attention to fall sports and college applications. This week, we’re introducing you to a man who’s thinking outside the box to help students get college scholarships. Brandon Culpepper is the CEO of PeppNation, an organization that educates kids through athletics. He’s this week’s “Natalie’s Everyday Hero.”

CBS 58 caught up with Culpepper recently at McGovern Park in Milwaukee. He was running a flag rugby practice for more than a dozen kids. On the field, his enthusiasm is contagious. He plays like he’s the biggest kid on the field.

“He's tall. He's pretty cool,” said Nehemiah Carson, describing Culpepper. “He's almost like a dad to me.”

Culpepper has been inspiring kids like Nehemiah Carson since 2012, when he launched PeppNation.

“We help kids get into college through athletics and we expose young people to non-traditional sports such as rugby, lacrosse, soccer, which they may not be familiar with, but they offer full scholarships to college,” Culpepper explained.

PeppNation has touched the lives of 14,000 students since it started, but it wasn’t what Culpepper ever thought he’d be doing.

“I left the city for about 13 years and I didn't think I was coming back,” he said. “But everything kept drawing me back to the city.”

He got a football scholarship to the University of Minnesota Duluth, was an NFL prospect and played professional rugby.

“Kids started reaching out, asking how did you get into college? What is college like? What were your grades like?” Culpepper said, and he realized he had the answers.

So he decided to help. PeppNation not only exposes kids to athletic scholarships, Culpepper helps them learn about academic options, like STEM programs.

“We take them to the Global Water Center in Milwaukee, the Metropolitan Sewer District, wherever they're talking about water and careers, we're typically there,” he gave as an example.

PeppNation also partners with Milwaukee Police Districts. Officers take groups of kids on bike rides across the city, and participate in flag rugby games.

“It's a great experience for them to see the city from a different perspective,” Culpepper said. “They don't have to only play sports. There are scholarships for everything.”

College students work with PeppNation as coaches and mentors. They set the example for the kids that Culpepper wants to see.

“We value athletics, academics, attendance, and attitude,” said said Monica Tews, a recent graduate from Wisconsin Lutheran College.

She said she can see the way Culpepper inspires the students.

“It's just amazing to see their growth and progress they've made throughout the year,” Tews said.

And it’s that progress that inspires Culpepper to keep doing what he’s doing.

“It's nice to be able to talk to the young people, tell them that hey, I grew up just like you did, and these are the things I've accomplished and i've lived all over the world. And you can do the same,” he said with a smile.

PeppNation runs programs all summer long, and also hosts after school programs and events during the school year. For more information just visit the website at https://www.peppnation.org/.

If you would like to nominate someone for “Natalie’s Everyday Heroes,” you can send Natalie an email at NShepherd@cbs58.com, or send her a message on Facebook. Tell us about someone who’s doing good work in your community.

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