Angela Copeland sums up her son's dilemma this way: "He fell off the map."
The fall was steep. Damian Copeland wasn't just on the map. He was the map during his last season of football at Palmetto High in '08.
He and teammate Kedric Johnson were the reasons college coaches made sure Palmetto was on their list of places to visit.
A receiver with speed to burn, Copeland was noted for making acrobatic catches and getting every ball thrown his way.
Nearly every college coach in the country wanted him. He chose Louisville because the Cardinals made the first offer and loyalty is important to him.
After graduation, he left. Then he vanished.
If you wanted to find Copeland, you had to go to the trainer's room or the doctor's office; or make an appointment with his surgeon.
He fractured his foot in his third day of training camp and missed his entire freshman year. He played in eight games the next year, but tore his meniscus before coming home to play in the Beef 'O' Brady Bowl.
He missed all of last season with a hamstring injury.
"I was frustrated, but never thought about giving it up," Copeland said from Louisville. "People usually give up when they are on the verge of success. I always keep that in mind."
It's good that he did.
On Sunday Copeland showed a national TV audience why he was such a coveted prospect. He caught four passes for 51 yards, including a spectacular diving catch on a third and nine from Louisville's own two yard line keeping alive a 99 yard drive that resulted in touchdown.
"I was just trying to get a completion to help our punter to get more space so he could change the field position," Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. "Once the cor
ner walked up to press Damian, we just took advantage of the defensive adjustment."
Damian took it personally.
"The cornerback coming up to play me man tells me he thinks he is better than me," Copeland said. "When you work hard in practice the hard catches become easy. It set the tempo of the game and reminded me of the Southeast game."
That Southeast game made Copeland a local legend of sorts.
A junior, he ended a 99 yard drive by Palmetto with a touchdown catch in the waning minutes of the game to give the Tigers their first victory over Southeast in 13 years.
"It was a fade route in the corner of the end zone. I will never forget that," Copeland said.
"In those days, Palmetto beating Southeast in football was cause for celebrations and parades. It just didn't happen much, but Copeland, who played his first years for the Seminoles, made it happen.
And soon after, he vanished.
But the 6-1,186 pounder is back.
Copeland says his chances of staying healthy are better now because he altered his training repertoire.
"I take much better care of my body and do a lot of the little stuff like icing down and stretching and watching my diet," Copeland said. "I watch film all the time. I watch film from practices of three or four years ago. I think I've matured a lot. When you are an athlete you have to stay and do the little things and I am doing everything. I wasn't always that way."
Injuries were not the only thing Copeland has had to deal with.
Steve Kragthorpe, the head coach who recruited Copeland, was fired less than a year the receiver arrived at Louisville. He had to deal with a personal loss and then impress a coaching staff that didn't necessarily want him.
"I was kind of down when he got fired. I had bonded with him and his coaches," Copeland said. "But I never thought of transferring. I am always a person who fights it out. You put me on the bottom and I am going to fight my way to the top. The new coaches coming in didn't know what to expect from me, but it all worked out."
Charlie Strong, who replaced Kragthorpe, couldn't be happier. His Cardinals are the favorite to win the Big East and are ranked 23d in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. When he clocked Copeland at 4.37 seconds in the forty and saw his soft hands he knew he had a prize if he could keep him injury free.
"My first goal is stay healthy and win the Big East and go to the Orange Bowl for a BCS Bowl game and make first team All-Conference," Copeland said.
The only two players from Palmetto's '08 team still playing college football are Copeland and Johnson. Unfortunately, the latter hasn't been able to shake off his injuries and will miss the entire season at Florida.
"I told him to keep this head up. I know how he feels, but you've got to stay positive," Copeland said.