High School Sports

College football | Palmetto's Damian Copeland coming home with Louisville to meet USF

Raymond Woodie stood next to Damian Copeland when he signed his letter of intent to play football at the University of Louisville.

Then Palmetto High's head football coach, Woodie saw nothing but stardom ahead for his talented wide receiver.

But that was nearly five years ago, and time doesn't stand still.

Woodie is now linebackers coach at USF, which plays host to Louisville in a key American Athletic Conference game Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.

Now, Woodie will try to make one of his favorite players look less than ordinary.

"You don't know how things are going to turn out in this business," Woodie said. "I never thought I would be coaching against him. He has turned out be as good as I thought, and I expect to see him playing on Sundays next year."

The game is a dream come true for Copeland, who has been inundated for tickets by family and friends. It's the first time the 23-year-

old will be playing so close to home since he went off to Louisville in 2009.

"The game is very special to me because I get a chance to play for all my loved ones and people who can't travel to see me play," Copeland said from Louisville. "My grandma (Marian) has watched me a play a lot on television, but has never been to one of my games."

Copeland and Woodie have kept in touch through text messages the last couple of years. This is a mutual admiration society.

"Coach Woodie won't need a ticket," Copeland says with a laugh. "It's going to be exciting to go up against him. I know that he is proud of me. He was one of the reasons I was able to get a scholarship to a big-time school. He always made sure my name was out there."

Woodie is grateful to Copeland. He was a natural leader who defined hard work through his actions.

"Damian is a blue-collar kid who worked hard in the classroom and on the field and was a student of the game," Woodie says. "He helped me a lot. He is a classy kid with a great upbringing."

Copeland received the highest honor in Louisville athletics last year when he was named the recipient of the leadership award for males at the school's all-sports banquet. It was quite a tribute considering the men's basketball team won the NCAA national championship and the football team defeated Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

Copeland was beset with injuries his first three years at Louisville and didn't make the trip to Tampa the last time the Cardinals played here two years ago. He incurred three major injuries, including a fractured foot his freshman year that was followed by a torn meniscus that kept him out of the Beef O'Brady Bowl in Tampa and a hamstring that forced him to miss most of his redshirt sophomore year.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder got himself right through a change of diet and has now played in 20 straight games for the Cardinals, who will bring a 6-1 record and No. 16 national ranking in the USA Today coaches poll.

Copeland leads the high-powered Louisville receiving corps with 28 catches, is second with 423 reception yards and has three touchdowns. Last year, he led the Cardinals with 50 receptions and was second with 628 receiving yards.

Copeland loves catches passes for Teddy Bridgewater, who many rate as the best quarterback in college football.

Copeland calls his receiving corps the AFROS (America's Finest Receivers on Saturday), which he says was a name that started in the past with former Louisville receives Deion Branch and Harry Douglas.

He has Woodie and the USF coaching staff under Willie Taggart concerned.

"Damian can block, catch, run and has good speed. He has that 'it' factor that NFL coaches and scouts like," Woodie says. "When healthy, he is as good as any receiver in the country. He has all the components to play at the next level."

Copeland and his teammates have motivation after seeing their undefeated season ruined and national title hopes take a huge hit in last week's 38-35 loss to UCF that saw them blow a 21-point lead. Louisville was ranked sixth going into the game.

"It was frustrating because we were up 28-7, but you can't let one game beat you twice," Copeland says. I felt like we beat ourselves. You have to play great in all three phases of the game and we didn't. Now we have to win the rest of our conference games and hope UCF loses."