Healthy receiver contributes for No. 19 Cardinals
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)
As a nickname, ''Honey Mustard'' doesn't have the same ring to it as ''Honey Badger.''
Injuries were a problem before this season and limited the junior with the blond mohawk to just eight games - including only one last year - and 113 yards.
Copeland enters Saturday's home game against North Carolina tied for the team lead with eight receptions and his 92 yards are just two behind leader Andrell Smith. While sophomore Teddy Bridgewater has involved everybody in Louisville's passing game, Copeland's inclusion demonstrates the Cardinals' trust in his health and ability.
And with a hairdo similar to former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, Copeland's also showing a willingness to stand out - off the field.
''It was just trying something new,'' said Copeland, a 6-foot-1, 188-pounder. ''I had a mohawk last year and it was black but after the (Belk) bowl game I just decided to do something with it. People like it. They call me 'Honey Badger,' 'Badger Milk,' 'Honey Mustard.' ...''
As that attention, Copeland's first reception this season drew the kind he wanted on the field. With Louisville facing third down from its 2 on the opening drive against Kentucky, he made a diving grab of Bridgewater's low pass near the right sideline for a 23-yard gain that jump-started the Cardinals' offense. Louisville went on to complete the 99-yard drive and a few more in a 32-14 victory with Copeland catching a career-high four passes for 51 yards.
He added four more catches for 41 in last week's 35-7 victory against Football Championship Subdivision member Missouri State. Copeland's contributions are not the only a payoff for being healthy, but also the chemistry he has developed with Bridgewater.
''He's one of those guys (that has been) in the shadows,'' Bridgewater said. ''He's been nicked with injuries in his past, but now that's healthy he's showing that he's not taking a step back.''
Listed behind redshirt freshman Charles Gaines at the ''Z'' receiver's spot for North Carolina - Copeland's lone 2011 game - he nonetheless figures to see time against the Tar Heels. All things considered, that's just what he wanted.
''I think the biggest thing I learned was patience,'' Copeland said of being sidelined. ''At the time I'd come out here, do great and have great practices but unfortunately, something happens.''
What bothered him most was how his injuries came during practice. Copeland was redshirted as a freshman after a knee injury, followed the next spring by a foot injury. Another knee injury followed the Carolina game, leading Copeland to reassess everything. His injuries' freakish nature told him he had to be in better shape physically, if not mentally.
''It had me down a little bit, but I kept a smile on my face and kept grinding,'' the Bradenton, Fla., native said. ''I was hungry. I never had an injury in high school and never sat out, so that just made me hungry. ... I'm just doing the little things and staying healthy.''
Ironically, a season-ending knee injury to 2011 receiving yardage leader Michaelee Harris opened the door for Copeland. Known for his speed, he began showing it and improved durability in spring practice. Laying out for that first catch symbolized Copeland's all-in approach.
''What you saw (against Kentucky) was what type of spring he had,'' Cardinals offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. ''He has started delivering plays and the plays he had on film just weren't the routine catches, he started making explosive plays.
''I think he gained a lot of confidence in what he's doing and he has learned to use his skill set because he's one of the fastest receivers we have on the team, one of the top two. It's nice to see his development because it has added a dimension we needed and didn't have last year.''
Copeland isn't concerned about when he'll score his first touchdown. He's fine with giving his team and spectators something to see on the field, and when that moment comes they'll definitely know who he when the helmet comes off.
''They see that 'Honey Mustard,''' said Louisville coach Charlie Strong, laughing. ''Cope has been a pleasant surprise. He has gotten better. You always felt like he had the ability, but he was always injured. Now that he has worked through his injuries, he has become a very solid player for us.''