Courtney Upshaw goes from multi-championship winner to up-and-coming coach

Former Falcons player Courtney Upshaw, right, serving as a coach intern watches as linebacker Arnold Ebiketie (47) participated in a drill during training camp at the Falcons Practice Facility, Friday, July 29, 2022, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Former Falcons player Courtney Upshaw, right, serving as a coach intern watches as linebacker Arnold Ebiketie (47) participated in a drill during training camp at the Falcons Practice Facility, Friday, July 29, 2022, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Courtney Upshaw has rare football experience. And he’s using his wisdom to help develop the next age of players, from high school to the pros.

Upshaw, 32, is an intern coach for the Falcons as part of the Bill Walsh Coaching Diversity Fellowship. The program uses training camps and offseason activities to help minority coaches get NFL experience. Upshaw, who played in the Falcons’ defensive scheme, is working with outside linebackers, the position he played.

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“It’s been dope,” Upshaw told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s been fun. Arthur Smith has treated all of us like we’re part of the coaching staff. We’re involved in all of it. Personnel meetings, the whole thing. … Everybody has been good, and they make us feel as one.”

Upshaw is a defensive line coach at Grayson High School. He brings a wealth of knowledge at the collegiate and professional level, playing in multiple college football championships and Super Bowls.

At Alabama, Upshaw won two titles and was a first-team All-American in 2011. The Ravens selected him in the second round of the 2012 draft. Baltimore won the Super Bowl to conclude his rookie season, with Upshaw collecting five tackles (four solo) and a forced fumble in a 34-31 victory over the 49ers.

Upshaw played for Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees and outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino in Baltimore. They had a profound impact on him, personally and on the field. And he’s used his experience as an example to Falcons players for what this defensive philosophy can do for them (for instance, showing rookies how to drop in coverage after they spent their college days as pure pass rushers).

“To be back out here with these guys, it’s been fun,” Upshaw said. “It’s like old times. You get to reminisce, watch a couple clips of myself. Small Courtney playing outside linebacker with Baltimore. Dean and Ted have been amazing from the start. With those guys, it’s not all about football. … That’s the best part of Dean and Ted. They’ve always treated me like a son. Those guys are great. I’m happy to be part of this with them.”

Upshaw spent the 2016-17 seasons with the Falcons. He reached the Super Bowl again in February 2017 with the Falcons, recording a sack. Upshaw finished his six-year NFL career with 216 tackles and seven sacks.

In 2020, Upshaw was a defensive line intern at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. The Eufala, Alabama, native said he always wanted to coach, but he learned it truly was what he wanted to do when he was at UAB. Grayson hired him in July 2021, saying he would “specialize in pass rush and work with the defensive line.” Over two years, Upshaw learned how much he values and enjoys the mentorship element of coaching.

“The kids from UAB, the kids from Grayson, they can always text me,” Upshaw said. “It’s not only about football with me. We all come from different walks of life. The stuff I went through as a kid, a lot of them went through the same stuff. The coaches I found to be the ones I clicked with, who got the best out of me, were like Dean Pees and Ted. That’s the blueprint for me. I told them, ‘I steal from y’all. The way you gave it to me, I give to them.’”

Upshaw hopes the climb the coaching ranks and be full-time at the NFL level down the line.

“If I can make it here to the league, that’s what I want,” he said. “But I just want to be able to teach with this opportunity. I’m here learning more about that coaching side. I know different things as a player to look at, but to get in here and add to my knowledge, that’s why I wanted to do this internship.”