Jacob Copeland came to Florida with high expectations on his shoulders. It was almost a guarantee that the star wide receiver would light the world on fire as soon as he stepped on campus.
Instead, he injured his knee almost immediately and it hobbled him for most of the season. The redshirt freshman played in the final three games, but at that point, he was too far behind to really see meaningful action.
Fast forward a couple months to time for spring practice. Finally, a chance for him to make a splash in the offense. Except a hamstring issue kept him off the field for the first two practices before he returned for a little bit only to be sidelined again.
But for that short time, he showcased just why he was so highly regarded in the first place.
“One of the practices I was blown away,” said wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales. “I was like ‘wow.’ You kind of forget like a little kid when you forget about that little toy that you haven’t had in a while. Oh my gosh. He was explosive, in and out of breaks. Then he tweaked a little bit again.”
No matter how talented he is, the question of how much impact he could have this season has started to float around, simply because this spring was so important for him to get more acclimated in the offense.
With six major contributors in Van Jefferson, Trevon Grimes, Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland and Kadarius Toney returning, there is not a ton of room left in the rotation. But while Copeland hasn’t had a ton of opportunities to participate physically, he’s made sure he is more than prepared mentally.
“The one thing I will tell you that he’s done a great job, not a good job, a great job, is learning,” Gonzales said. “Some guys when they get hurt, you see it in different places or different people, they drift away and they don’t always focus into the learning curve. I’ll tell you what, he’s done a fabulous job.”
Copeland just got back to the point of dressing out for limited practice, but even before then, he tried to stay as involved as he could.
Gonzales said if he asks him a question, he spits the answer right back out. If the Gators are going over a walk through, Copeland is the one reading the script.
That’s obviously not what he wants to be doing. He wants to be making plays on the field, and every day that passes that he’s not, it becomes more and more frustrating. But despite all the obstacles, he’s put himself in a position to be ready to compete when that day finally comes.
“He’s got a group of brothers on this team trying to push him in the right way and keep him positive,” Gonzales said. “He’s done a great job of as far as staying positive and learning.”