Jacob Copeland has been a lightning rod for Gator Nation even before he arrived on campus.
There was a tight race to sign him, then some drama on National Signing day but Copeland made it to campus. Then the start of his career was derailed by injuries and the young man didn’t know how to handle it.
“Last year was a setback for me having injuries back-to-back,” Copeland said Saturday night. “When I’m down, my teammates kept me up. They stayed with me, keeping me motivated through it all.”
Copeland had just one catch for 16 yards in 2018. His athleticism and raw ability were evident; he just wasn’t able to stay healthy. Heading into this season he was rejuvenated and ready to make an impact, but the harsh reality was there are a lot of mouths to feed at the position. Florida has four senior receivers, and juniors Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney. Frankly, it was going to be hard for any one receiver, in particular, to stand out.
Copeland is still human, so when the 2019 season began with similar playing time as the year before he started to get down on himself again. There was a three-catch, touchdown performance against UT-Martin but Copeland didn’t register any stats against Kentucky. His teammates, specifically the ones in his position room are the guys that kept him going, kept his chin up.
“Knowing I got people behind my back, knowing I got seniors ahead of me, and knowing that they want their touches too because they want to get out of here and make something big happen in life, just knowing they’ve got my back, that’s love,” Copeland said after Florida’s win at South Carolina.
His time came last week against the Gamecocks. With a tropical storm creating a wet football, muddy field and an overall sloppy game Copeland was the first Gator to make an impact. Trask found the redshirt freshman on a comeback and the athletic receiver went up and made a play. He turned what looked like an iffy decision by Trask into a 32-yard gain.
“Knowing that I made a catch in the difficult weather, that shows coaches a lot, like, ‘He’s one of the players that we can count on.’ Not that they can’t call on any other player, but they were confident in me. I caught that, and they were like, ‘Let’s keep giving him shots and see what he can do with it.’ At the end of the day, I trust coach and he trusts me.”
That trust showed a couple of drives later when Copeland’s number was called again. Once again the pass went into double coverage with Copeland going up over one defensive back to make a contested catch. This time he split the two defensive backs and found the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown. Copeland wasn’t even the happiest person on the field after finding pay dirt. His teammates mobbed him; Billy Gonzales gave him a big hug on the sideline. It was a huge play that tied the game at 10. Copeland finished the game with three catches for a career-high 89 yards and a touchdown. He caught all three passes thrown his way.
It’s a start for Copeland and the success he needed to continue to keep his head up. His talent and athleticism remain undeniable. He’s still young, so what he needed was validation that the work he’s been putting in wasn’t all for not. With that performance out of the way, Copeland is saying the right things heading into the bye week.
“You’ve just got to stay focused at all times. I was having difficulty with a little bit of the playbook or whatever, but I just stayed focused, maintained and played my game,” Copeland said. “Coach Mullen always says, ‘Play your game.’ Everybody doesn’t learn the same. Some players may have to walk through the plays, some players may have to do this and that read. He just says, ‘Play your way. Do everything you do, what’s best for you, and it will play out alright.’”