Maryland Terrapins wide receiver Jacob Copeland never expected to leave his Florida Gators teammates before he was ready to declare for the NFL draft. He had worked his way up the stat sheet over four years, becoming the leading pass-catcher. But in November 2021, with a regular season game and a bowl game yet to play, his head coach Dan Mullen was fired. Another six assistant coaches had expiring contracts. The future for his final season of eligibility was unclear and Copeland knew it was time to make a move.
The decision wasn’t easy, as Copeland shared: “Going to Florida was a dream school for me,” Copeland said. “It was always great though. Like the vibes, the people around it and community, everything was love always. And I felt that it was all coming together for me in Florida. Like I didn’t want to leave Florida. I love it to death, like to this day. I still to this day bleed orange and blue like forever. I’m going to always bleed blue because I spent most of my career there and there were a lot of players who helped me over with the process of becoming a better football player.”
He certainly had success at Florida, as he showed with this 49-yard reception on third down and 12 against Missouri:
It was only the uncertainty of the program’s future that made leaving the right choice. Copeland explains that if he had been a freshman, he might have stuck it out but in the final year of eligibility, it was better to move on and make a fresh start.
“once my previous staff ended up losing out on their jobs, I didn’t really know what to expect and I didn’t know who was coming in or what, how things gonna be ran there,” Copeland said. “I felt if I was younger, like a freshman or so, I would have most definitely stuck it out to where things took me… But coming to the end of my last couple of days, I felt it would definitely be better for me to have a fresh start.”
He entered the transfer portal once the regular season ended and chose Maryland based on his connection with head coach Mike Locksley, who had been the offensive coordinator when Copeland was on his recruiting visits. That connection went beyond football to include life, so the choice to move north felt right. As Copeland explains, his coach knew what he could do on the field and it was a place that he could acclimate quickly. He was right:
The only hard part of transitioning from Florida to Maryland? The weather. Having lived in Florida his entire life, Copeland made the move to wearing gloves in games. While he doesn’t like the lower temperatures, it has certainly been helpful in preparing him for wherever he may play next.
Moving from Florida to Maryland also meant that he wasn’t the top wide receiver anymore. Copeland was willing to do whatever it took to help his team. As he explains, he was “willing to sacrifice and do everything for the team.” That included playing gunner on punt coverage and returning kicks, a role he would gladly repeat in the NFL. While he did not ask to return kicks, he earned the job permanently:
Whether it’s yards after the catch or returning kicks, Copeland is shifty and good at making defenders miss. I asked if that is a natural instinct or something he has worked to achieve. From the his early days in Pop Warner, Copeland has always been able to this and the team would create plays to highlight that skill. At the college level, he still puts in the work, particularly in the film room to prepare for opposing defensive backs:
“Basically, whatever opponent I’m watching or whatever cornerback I’m going against, I always study their tendencies because I feel that he’s most definitely going to most likely hold me in the boundary because I played boundary most the times,” Copeland said. “So I feel that if I study him and I prepare for him, I’ll win the battle every week. And whatever DB I was going against, I’d look at like two games, before. That last game that they played, I wouldn’t even look at that game yet. So, I look at two games before and see if anything changed for that game. And then I put the two together and look at everything they did to see anything changed.”
His film study also helps him on blocking assignments when he isn’t the targeted receiver.
As far as scheme goes, Copeland will do whatever it takes to help his team, as he did this past season. He is most comfortable at the X position but feels he can play anywhere on the field. One the first day of practice at the Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas, he made life easy for his quarterback in 7 on 7 drills:
Prior to the draft, Copeland will take part in the NFL Combine, where he plans to participate in all of the events. Anyone not familiar with his workout regimen might be surprised when it comes time for the bench press. His current one-rep maximum is 435 pounds on the bench press and 630 pounds on squat. He works to maintain a lower body weight so that he doesn’t sacrifice speed and wants to be the most physical player on the field. When asked to predict his 40 yard dash time, he said that he expects to run a 4.3 and he says it like he believes it.
When it comes to support, Copeland has a solid team. Growing up as one of seven boys, he wanted to play football at six years old. His mother, whom he calls his hero, worked hard to give her sons what they needed but couldn’t always afford it. With his father incarcerated (“no pops in sight”), it was his youth football coach, Trampas Miller, who became a father figure. With his mother’s blessing, Copeland lived with the Miller family during high school and they became an extended family. It was more about opportunities for growth and he remained close with his mother and siblings. And even now, he considers the Millers a part of his family:
“Like he was my pops,” Copeland said. “Like to this day, that’s my pop, like that’s my dad. Like everybody else knows, he’s my dad. His wife is my second mom. So, that’s my family and I’ve got the keys to the house, I’ve got a code to the house. I’ve got a whole room at the house. That’s really my family. I been knowing them six I was 6 years old and I’m 23 years old now. And until this day they’ve always been with me regardless of no matter what I needed. Whatever I need, I can call them. Whenever I’m in trouble, or anything, even though I’ve never been in no trouble, whenever I’m in trouble and I call him, he’s gonna be on the way no matter what. Wherever I’m at, he’s going to go on that plane.”
Coach Miller has also been a source of advice as Copeland has navigated his college career and his next steps. Copeland appreciates his football knowledge and his guidance when it comes to his choices in life.
While his coach has clearly made a huge difference in his life, Copeland has left his own legacy. He remains one of the most talented receivers in the history of his high school. One of his rival Pop Warner teams was so impressed with his abilities, particularly with one-handed catches, that they named a youth football award after him.
As far as what has impressed him about working with NFL coaches this week, Copeland mentions their attention to detail. He is clearly enjoying the process of trying to improve every day and working with his teammates to get better each day.
Jacob Copeland has found success every time he faced challenges in his life. He is ready and excited for the next one.