RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The former director for Virginia Commonwealth University’s beloved pep band the “Peppas” — Ryan Kopacsi — sat in the stands of the Siegel Center Wednesday afternoon, reflecting on the memories made in that very spot.

“I think it was 2001 I attempted a backflip right over there,” Kopacsi said. “I ended up getting 16 stitches and 56 staples before the first game that year.”

It’s now been nearly six years since the former director last sat in one of those black plastic chairs looking over the basketball court. After leading the team for about 18 years — starting in 1998 –he left the position in 2016 to work in the Richmond Fire Department’s Investigative Unit.

Ryan Kopacsi sits in the pep band section of VCU’s Siegel Center. Photo credit Sierra Krug.

Kopacsi told 8News he has loved serving the community with the department, but he is ready to resume his role with VCU as well.

“It’s just natural,” Kopacsi said. “Every time I walk in the building, I get goosebumps.”

The decision wasn’t small, but to Kopacsi — it was easy. The former director said stepping away from the position stripped him of a critical element of his persona. Kopacsi describes the energy in the arena not just as electric and powerful — but as home.

“When you leave something you’ve done for so long, it becomes your identity,” Kopacsi said. “Then, when you walk away from it, you lose a piece of yourself.”

More than the fun and spirit Kopacsi feels from cheering on the VCU Rams from the stands, the band director said relationships are a primary focus of his when he’s leading his team. VCU athletics spokesperson Kevin Dwan said he has witnessed Kopacsi’s enthusiasm to build connections first-hand.

“He was here for a very long time,” Dwan said. “But more than just how long he was here, it was kind of the impact he had on people.”

The Peppas won’t be back playing along the court until November when VCU’s basketball season officially starts, but Kopacsi already has some tricks up his sleeve, planning ahead for his big return and the vision he has for the iconic pep team.

“It’ll be flashy,” Kopacsi said. “It’ll be probably a little bit flamboyant well make something happen.”

The official schedule for the 2022-23 VCU basketball season hasn’t been released yet, but tickets are already available online. Information can be found at https://vcuathletics.com/sports/2020/5/20/tickets-MBB-MBBTickets.aspx.