If Saturday’s showdown between No. 11 Florida and No. 1 Alabama is half as dramatic as the battle to land Jacob Copeland was, the 90,000 fans who pile into the Swamp will be in for a treat.
By now, you’ve probably heard Copeland’s story several times, and you obviously know how it ended since he plays for the Gators.
For those who need a refresher, Copeland was a top-100 receiver out of Escambia High School in Pensacola in the Class of 2018. He committed to UF over Alabama and others days prior to the start of his senior year. However, when the Gators fired Jim McElwain, he decided to reopen his recruitment.
Tennessee was considered a factor for a little while, but it eventually became a one-on-one battle between Florida and Alabama, with both head coaches getting heavily involved in his recruitment. He took official visits to both schools over the final two weekends prior to the February signing day.
“[Nick Saban] was one of the standard coaches around college football,” Copeland said. “To think I got him on my line, that was a great thing to have, knowing where I come from. It’s Nick Saban you talking to at all times. You can go to school, visit him, and you chilling with him, kicking it with him, like, good vibes type deal.”
Copeland wore a crimson and white suit to his signing day ceremony. His mother, Betty, wore an Alabama shirt and a Tennessee beanie. Eventually, though, he announced that he would be signing with Florida. Betty then got up and walked out of the gym while the camera was still rolling, seemingly disgusted with Jacob’s decision.
The moment went viral on social media and will probably always be one of the things that Copeland is remembered for the most. In fact, if you start to type Copeland’s name into Google, “Jacob Copeland mom” is the first recommended search term that pops up.
Jacob Copeland's mother — in an Alabama sweater and Tennessee hat — just got up and left after he announced he was going to Florida pic.twitter.com/tOZHnZeamv
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) February 7, 2018
Now, it’s worth noting that Copeland later stated that his mom’s exit was a joke and not a serious sign of family friction. Still, it was an intense, down-to-the-wire recruiting battle that easily could’ve gone the other way.
“I was going to ’Bama,” Copeland said. “There was no ‘ifs,’ ‘ands’ or ‘buts’ about it. Because it was like, first, the new staff had came in, and I [didn’t] know who all was coming upon with [Dan] Mullen. Even though Florida was like a dream school for me, I can’t just up and go there just because. I felt like, ‘Hey, I had to make the right choices and do what I’ve got to do.’
“But Florida was a school that I had at heart, and ’Bama was a school that I always loved, too. So, it was like, ‘Hey, what am I going to do?’ But when it came to signing day, when Saban [and I talked], I just felt like, ‘Hey, I can’t do that.’ And I had made a call to Mullen and to Coach [Billy Gonzales] and told them ‘I’m coming to Florida’ right before I signed.”
Now Copeland has a chance to help deliver a second – and definitely more meaningful – victory for the Gators over the Crimson Tide.
Copeland, in his first year as UF’s No. 1 receiver, spent the offseason trying to cut down on the drops that plagued him during his first three seasons.
His work has paid off, as he’s only dropped one pass so far this season and made a couple of spectacular catches to go with it.
He caught five passes for a career-high 175 yards and a career-best two touchdowns against South Florida last week.
“I felt like my drops came because I never knew when my next opportunity would come,” he said. “So, it was like, when it came, I felt it was a little unexpected type deal. So, then it happened. I feel like this year, during the offseason, I worked, but I just didn’t show a lot of people. The question was ‘Was Jacob working, and was he doing this and that?’
“But I always was working, and, like, a lot of my teammates, they can vouch for me. They know I was working, and I stayed focused during the whole offseason because I knew what time it was for this season. So, I [stayed] focused, and I really focused on what I had to do with my hands, and I did that, and now it’s showing on the field.”
Copeland acknowledged that playing Alabama means a little more to him than other games. This is an opportunity for him to show Saban what he missed out on, but he’s also trying to just focus on doing his job on every play.
“I’m going to go in with my game and do what I’ve got to do,” Copeland said. “But, at the same time, I know this is Nick Saban. I know he’s going to come with it at all times. He’s going to bring a defense, and we’re going to bring an offense. So, it’s just like, whoever executes well or executes better is going to come out with a chance to win this game. So, in my eyes, I feel like we are going to do what we’ve got to do and make it happen.
“Nick has been setting the standard so high. We feel if we knock him off, then we’re really the team to beat. I feel like practice this week, we’re going to start off good, start off strong and hopefully come out with a ‘W’ at the end of the day.”