After strong stretch of practice, Copeland emerging in UF passing attack

Florida receiver Jacob Copeland runs in for a touchdown after catching a pass from QB Kyle Trask, as South Carolina's defense chases in the first half Saturdayin Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

With the Florida Gators looking to get into the end zone for the first time, Dan Mullen called on the most highly recruited offensive prospect of his 2018 signing class. 

The result? A tie game, a momentum swing — and the peak of what has been a turning point as of late for wide receiver Jacob Copeland. 

The Pensacola native hauled in three passes for a team-high 89 yards in Saturday’s 38-27 victory over South Carolina, including the early game-tying score. On Monday, Copeland was named SEC Freshman of the Week.

For many — presumably Copeland included — the 37-yard touchdown elicited a response along the likes of “finally”.

But as the former Escambia High standout can attest, a seamless transition to the collegiate level more often than not isn’t the case.

“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. Coach (Dan) Mullen always says, ‘Play your game’,” Copeland said. “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 all right’.”

It didn’t help that Copeland dealt with a nagging quad injury during his first season in Gainesville, which essentially eliminated any hope the redshirt freshman had of making an instant impact. 

Struggling with a reserve role for the first time in his playing career, Copeland admitted it was tough to trust the process while aware of his own talent level; he credited Florida’s receiving corps — the unit he’s competing with, yet a group that’s become like family — with helping him keep the faith that a performance like Saturday’s was right around the corner. 

“The receivers, like Freddie Swain, Van Jefferson, Josh Hammond, Tyrie Cleveland, Trevon Grimes. They all kept me motivated because I kept dealing with injuries. They just told me to stay focused and it’s all going to play out,” Copeland said. “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.”

Over the past several weeks, Copeland has resembled the seniors more and more — not from a play standpoint, but from his attention to detail in practice. It’s well-known that clean play in practice leads to in-game reps, yet, like the transition to the collegiate level, it’s something that’s easier said than done. 

For Copeland, that was a lesson learned the hard way.

“I think the biggest thing for him, he’s had the last two weeks he’s been much better in practice, a different player in practice than he was. And not playmaking, I’ve watched him make plays. This is a different player in the discipline in what he’s doing and knowing his assignment, knowing how to run routes, which I think for young guys that’s the hard thing,” Mullen said of Copeland. “That, you know, ‘coach, don’t you see me making these great plays, I’m a playmaker’. I say, ‘I do, but then I see you go the wrong way sometimes’. I mean, you got to be disciplined and exact, and the last two weeks he’s really done a good job of that, of improving that way and you saw it. So I think he’s gotten a lot more trust from everybody and you saw he has the ability to make plays.”

Now, having established the foundation and gotten his feet wet, the time is nigh for Copeland to become a consistent presence in Florida’s offense. With arguably the largest game of the season looming, Copeland’s emergence into a reliable weapon may not have come at a better time for a Florida team firmly in the driver’s seat.

“I just got to keep getting better each week with my teammates, make sure that they help me and I help them. Everybody stays motivated, and we keep going,” Copeland said. “Knowing that there was a big game for us with difficult weather, we stayed focused and came out with a ‘W’.”


  1. Copeland did a marvelous job on the road, in the rain, against a D that shut down the UGA passing game just the week before. His future looks real bright!

    Now, here’s a point we haven’t seen highlighted in Gator coverage to date: Copeland is just the latest member of the Gator 2018 recruiting class (CDM’s first) to show off his tremendous potential. Check out the list of other significant contributors to 2019 results from the 2018 Gator recruiting class: Emory Jones, Kyle Pitts, Richard Gouraige, Amari Burney, Trey Dean, Dameon Pierce, Chris Bleich, Griffin McDowell and Evan McPherson.

    Not a bad haul for CDM’s 1st (transition) recruiting class and (for 6’s amusement) NOT ONE 5* recruit in the bunch!!!

    GO GATORS!!!

    • Yeah, but we beat Georgia and we’ll probably get a few of their much vaunted, seldom seen, and oft maligned 8 Star players as transfers!

      — Posted in tribute to our old pal CO Jones, where ever he may be these days

    • I appreciate the list, StLGator, of contributors from Mullen’s first class. I tend to get frustrated with the star rankings when there is so much more to a young man than GenStats. I would rather have a 3* who is all about the team and listens intently to the good coaching he getting from our staff than have a 5* who has a sense of entitlement and thinks he is already good enough for the NFL.

      And I remember what Dr. Dirt mentioned about Copeland’s mom. She won’t get to park in the Parent of the Week spot after that episode.

      Looking forward, I felt we would handle UGA all summer. If we end up with two losses, the second one will be in the other Columbia, in Misery.

      Plus, we won’t have to worry about Willie and the Po’ Boys icing their own kicker in The Swamp. That game won’t be that close, and the only bowl the Noles’ will be playing in is the Second Annual Toilet.

      • Hey, hey, hey, be nice to the State of “Misery“ Phil. I’ve happily called it home for nearly 40 years!

        That said, I believe the Gators will get past the “Misery“ Tigers with less difficulty in November than at any other time since the Tigers joined the SEC. My justification for that prediction is Kyle Trask, his pass posse and the Gator D.

        If you recall, the ONLY time the Gators came home from the State of “Misery” with a W, they had Will Grier at QB, their only other competent passer of the last decade. His passing that day, and a good D, won fairly easily, 21-3. I was there!

        The following week Grier got himself suspended, McElwhiner allowed him to quit the team and the Gator passing game went back to sucking… until the 4th quarter of the UK game this season!

  2. It’s time to acknowledge the incredible work of Coach Gonzales and our Senior receivers. Jefferson, Cleveland, Hammond and Swain have done an amazing job getting our offense back where it belongs. They have given our QB’s a reliable set of targets, blocked downfield, put in extra work as gunners on special teams, never complain about sharing the ball, and provided leadership to the next wave of excellent receivers coming up. Let’s hope these guys get what they deserve- a shot at a Championship. Still a long way to go this season, but it’s feeling more and more like 2006 around here. The start of a juggernaut. Big words, I know, but you gotta believe to achieve! GET EM GATORS!!!

  3. If the D get back and stays healthy and shuts down the big plays like we all know they are more than capable of, we’re going to defeat LSU in the SEC Championship and then Oklahoma for the NC. Stay humble. Stay hungry. You’re at the precipice Gators – as Emmet told you – it’s decision time – stand up and take the mind and spoils of champions, and growl Gators, growl! When you play mean, you’re unstoppable.

  4. I remember tracking Copeland when UF was recruiting him and watching his high school film. I really liked this guy but his mom was all about Bama. I watched the signing day drama in his high school gym, Jacob and his mom both were dressed in red, a bad sign I thought. When he put the Gator hat on I was really pumped, couldn’t believe we got him back after de-committing. Then his mom walked out in protest, I felt so bad for him because this was “his day” and she upstaged the whole ceremony, you could tell it really upset him. Jacob has been through a lot with the knee and leg injuries last year and a hard recovery process. I am happy to see him coming into his own as he works his way back into top form. I believe this guy is going to really be special, Percy Harvin type special. Good job Jacob against SC, wishing you the best. Go Gators!! Beat them Dawgs.

  5. The entire receiving corps is/are something to behold this year–and that’s the primary reason why the Gator offense is fun to watch again–especially now that the qb’s a first-rate, SEC-level game manager who knows how to get them the ball.

  6. Copeland’s hard work and discipline is paying off – yes you have to invest alot before you start seeing a return. His addition to the Gator receiver corps makes this group one of the best in college football – GO GATORS!!!