Champion mindset: Jacob Copeland poised for breakout year with Gators

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
Florida wide receiver Jacob Copeland is ready to take over at prime position for the Gators.

The first day of spring ball felt different for Jacob Copeland as he took the practice field last week. 

His roommate for the past three years, Mackey Award winner Kyle Pitts, was no longer by his side. 

Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney were missing from the starting lineup, too. 

“When I came out for spring practice, I looked around and realized, ‘It’s on me now.’ My mindset just clicked,” Copeland said. “I really gotta have a champion mindset and help lead this team. I'm the old head of the receivers, so I know all the younger receivers looking up to me.”

More:Copeland paying no mind to social media critics

The redshirt junior is only the returning starter in Florida’s receiving corps, making 11 starts last season before missing the bowl game with COVID-19. Copeland led the team in yards per catch (18.9), finishing the year with 23 receptions for 435 yards and three touchdowns. 

His numbers should jump considerably in 2021 with Pitts, Toney and Grimes now off to the NFL. He’ll also have a new quarterback throwing him the ball. 

“With all the receivers and Kyle Trask leaving, I think Coach (Dan) Mullen wanted to start spring early just to get that connection going.”

Florida quarterback Emory Jones (5) looks to throw against Oklahoma during the NCAA Cotton Bowl college football game Wednesday, Dec.30, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Copeland already has a connection with QB Emory Jones that dates back to recruiting. They became friends during the 2018 cycle and played together at the Under Armour All-America Game, where they discussed teaming up in college. 

Jones signing early with Florida helped bring Copeland, a former UF commit, back in the class. 

“We came in together and we planned this,” Copeland said. “He told me like, ‘We could do something special here.’ Just knowing the type of duo we could be if we came together.

“And now that he’s the starting quarterback and I'm a starting receiver I feel we're going to be something major, like Kyle-to-Kyle last year. We got that type of connection.”

It was strengthened in 2019 when their playing time increased, and they hooked up for a 17-yard completion on third-and-12 against Florida State. Copeland remembers the play because it was supposed to go to Rick Wells, but Jones threw it to him instead. 

“He could have gone deep, but he looked at me and threw it across the field to me in traffic,” Copeland said. “I had two players on me and just knowing that he still came my way, it showed he had a lot of trust in me. Ever since then, that made our bond even stronger.”

Copeland also earned that trust from Trask, who routinely connected with him on sidelines passes last season. He also targeted Copeland on several deep shots and found him for the game-sealing touchdown at Tennessee, which clinched the SEC East title. 

Florida Gators quarterbacks Kyle Trask (11) is congratulated by teammates after throwing a touchdown to Jacob Copeland which was his 39th touchdown pass of the season, tying Danny Wuerffel's single-season TD record, in the first half of the game against the LSU Tigers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. Dec. 12, 2020.

“Being a starter in that historic offense last year, it was exciting. Just knowing I was a part of it and played with some great players, it made a major impact on me,” Copeland said. “It boosted my confidence because Kyle Trask was the starting quarterback and he threw me the ball a lot. I made some mistakes with him, but kept coming back to me. 

“At the same time I've polished them, too. Just knowing that Trask and the rest of the team was counting on me to make big plays, that put it in my mind to stay on top of my craft and work even harder.” 

Toney took that same champion mindset into last offseason and boosted his draft stock as a senior, recording 70 receptions for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also carried the ball 19 times for 161 yards and a score. 

Florida Gators receiver Jacob Copeland (15) flips the ball to a referee after catching a touchdown pass during a game against the LSU Tigers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. Dec. 12, 2020.

The bulk of that workload will go to Copeland this year, with Mullen planning to use him at multiple positions. 

“They got me in the role of KT right now, playing the X and H,” Copeland said. “Coach Mullen came to me during the bowl game week and told me he was going to work me in the H for the spring because he needs me to be versatile with it. He’s going to use me inside and outside depending on how they’re playing me.

“So I feel good about this year. Seeing what KT did last season, it motivates me. My mindset is to put my name in the record books for a 1,000-yard receiving season. I know I can do it as long as I keep my head on right and keep staying focused.”