Jacob Copeland recounts recruitment by Crimson Tide

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida wide receiver Jacob Copeland makes a catch for a touchdown during the second quarter Saturday against South Florida at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Florida wide receiver Jacob Copeland, a Pensacola native, doesn’t mince words when discussing the dynasty that nearly wooed him from his home state, the Alabama Crimson Tide. 

He has no issue making it known how different things could have been when it came to Copeland’s collegiate career. 

“I was going to Bama,” Copeland said. “There was no ands, ifs, or buts about it.”

It is Nick Saban, after all, who has led the Crimson Tide to six national championships since arriving in Tuscaloosa. When he calls, you listen, and if he wants to offer you a scholarship, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to decline. 

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Besides, the Gators were in the midst of a coaching change, and the staff that secured Copeland’s initial commitment was on its way out the door, making the prospect of playing close to his Northwest Florida home for the top program in the country sound even more intriguing. 

“First, the new staff had came in, and I didn’t know who all, like, was coming up with (Dan) Mullen,” Copeland remembers. “Like, I just can’t go — even though Florida was like a dream school for me — I just can’t go up and go there because I could. I felt like, ‘hey, I had to make the right choices and do what I gotta do’.”

Copeland was clearly conflicted as the process waned, as was his family, which was no secret to viewers watching him make the agonizing decision on National Signing Day. 

Ultimately, the rest is history — Copeland spurned Saban, signed with Florida and headed south. 

“Florida was a school I had in my heart, and Bama was a school I always loved. It was like, ‘hey, what am I going to do?’ But when it came to signing day, when Saban (and I talked), it felt like, ‘hey, I can’t do that’,” Copeland said, “and I had made a call to Mullen and Coach (Billy Gonzales) to tell them, ‘Hey, I’m coming to Florida,’ right before I had signed.”

Copeland knew what he was doing, too. 

The gravity of turning down Saban, one of the most decorated coaches in the sport's history, wasn’t lost on him, and Copeland acknowledges that simply being recruited by Saban was a testament to his skill set and potential. 

“Have him call me knowing he was like the standard coach — he was one the standard coaches around like college football — knowing what it was to think I got him on my (phone) line, like that was a great thing to have, knowing where I come from,” Copeland said. “It’s Nick Saban you talking to at all times. You can go to school (and take an official) visit with him, and you chilling with him, like kicking it with him, like good-vibes-type deal.”

Now in what will most likely be his final season of collegiate action, Copeland isn’t living in the past or thinking of what might have been, however.

“But just knowing that, at the end of the day, that’s in the past now,” he said. “I’m here. I’m with Dan Mullen now, so it is what it is. I’ve got to do what I do.”

What Copeland intends to do, in fact, is lead the Gators to victory Saturday against the Crimson Tide, something Florida failed to do in the SEC Championship Game last season. 

Although Copeland and his fellow teammates did take solace in knowing a touchdown separated the Gators and the Tide when it came to the previous encounter in Atlanta. 

“Losing to them by six points, really was something I want to say built up some encouragement for us. Knowing that we were that close to beating Bama last year in the SEC Championship, built off that, and just going into the offseason, just helped us along the line,” Copeland said. “Coming into the season, we knew we’d see Bama early and as long as we execute well, from here on out, I feel like it will be great for us.”

The first two contests of the 2021 season have been rife with miscues, ones that won’t cut it against Alabama, and Copeland knows it. 

As they did the last time out, the attention to detail and execution of the game plan may make all the difference Saturday, especially when Nicholas Lou Saban, Jr. is on the opposing sideline. 

“I’m going to go in with my game and do what I gotta do. But at the same time, I know this is Nick Saban, I know he’s going to come with it at all times. He’s going to bring a defense and we’re going to bring an offense,” Copeland said. “So it’s just like, whoever executes well — or executes better — is going to come out with a chance to win this game. So I feel like, in my eyes, I feel like we are going to do what we gotta do and make it happen.”