Pressure on Gators receiver Jacob Copeland to produce in 2021

Alan Festo
Gator Sports

With great power comes great responsibility. The same could be said for jersey No. 1 at the University of Florida.

Some of the previous football players to wear No. 1 in orange and blue include safety Reggie Nelson (2006), receiver Percy Harvin (2007-08), defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III (2013-15) and, more recently, defensive back CJ Henderson (2019) and receiver Kadarius Toney (2019-20). Linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. wears No. 1 on defense.

Besides all wearing No. 1 these former Gator stars have something else in common— they were all first-round NFL draft picks.

Hoping to live up to that standard this season will be redshirt junior Jacob Copeland.

“It’s a really big privilege and I feel like I’ll be accountable for everything that comes with the number,” said Copeland, who wore No. 1 at Pensacola Escambia High School.

UF wide receiver Jacob Copeland (1) is expected to play a major role in the passing game this season.

Copeland started 11 games last season and finished the year with 435 yards and three touchdowns. His 23 receptions, however, were good enough for sixth on the team behind All-Americans Toney (70), Kyle Pitts (43), Trevon Grimes (38), Malik Davis (31) and Justin Shorter (25).

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With the top three on that list now in the NFL, Copeland knows it is finally his time to shine. His former teammates agree.

“I actually spoke with all of them yesterday, last night,” he said. “Talking to me about camp, making sure everything all right, making sure my mindset ready to go into the season and let me know that you’ve got to stay focused because this a big year ahead of me.”

On the field, part of that focus will need to be on his own backfield. Presumed starting quarterback Emory Jones has the ability to use his legs to escape the pocket or head up field, something former quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask didn't do all that much. That could require Copeland to abandon his route to help his quarterback complete a pass or turn into a run blocker.

“You know, like Coach (Dan) Mullen always say, we’ve got some very athletic quarterbacks. So, when things not going right during that play, just stay on the run at all times because they’re liable to do anything,” he said. “They’re liable to make any type of play out of nothing.”

Of course, Copeland won’t have to do it alone. Redshirt junior Justin Shorter, a Penn State transfer, is poised for a breakout season and redshirt sophomores Trent Whittemore and Ja’Markis Weston are in position for plenty of playing time.

As Copeland’s mindset has changed and his maturity as a player has progressed, he also is now imparting his wisdom on his young teammates as they continue to improve in both the mental and physical aspects of the game.

“I didn’t understand the development part of what was going on,” Copeland said. “As I got older and seeing what it all took. The receivers, they come on, they catch on slowly and they learn the process of what the game is all about.”