High School Sports

Palmetto product Damian Copeland making leap from Louisville to NFL

Less than two months after he was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, Damian Copeland received a call he had been dreaming about.

"The person I spoke to invited me to this year's NFL Combine and wanted to know if I was coming," the Palmetto native said.

It ended any thought the wide receiver had of returning to Louisville. He took the call Friday and made plans attend next month's combine in Indianapolis.

"I am ready. Not many people realize what this means to me. This is a blessing after what I've been through," Copeland said. "Most people haven't walked in my shoes. It wasn't always smooth sailing. My first three years in college I could barely play football."

The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder earned that sixth year of eligibility. He has medical charts and remnants of pain to prove it.

"I always say it's not how you start. It's how you finish in the game of life and in the game of football," Copeland said.

After barely playing his first three years because of an assortment of injuries, Copeland finished strong. He started the final 26 straight games of his career, going 23-3 while winning a BCS bowl game with a victory over Florida and a Big East championship.

Copeland changed his diet, made some changes in his training and has been healthy since.

NFL scouts like his athleticism and see him as a versatile receiver who could play the slot or beat defenders on the outside. Going into college, he ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash.

Copeland gives a lot of

credit to Ray Woodie, his former head coach at Palmetto High and current assistant at South Florida.

"I've been told by NFL scouts that they don't want head cases and that the biggest thing now is character," Copeland said. "Coach Woodie stressed character all the time with me. He instilled the idea that how you carry yourself off the field is very important. And my parents did a great job. I grew up with people who supported me."

When Copeland played at Palmetto, he had a reputation for being an acrobatic receiver who could catch any pass close to him. He was talked about as the best receiver in Manatee County history. In his senior season (2008), he caught 11 TD passes and had 52 catches for 718 yards.

Woodie likes to compare Copeland to Fabian Washington, whom he coached at Bayshore and was a first-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

"Fabian shocked everyone when he broke Deion Sanders' record for the 40 at the combine. I think Damian is going surprise people also," Woodie said. "He is not a 4.28, but I see him running a consistent 4.4 and down. His stock is going to move up after the combine. His determination is special. He is a good route runner and can block."

Copeland led Louisville's high-powered offense with 58 receptions. He was second on the team with 780 reception yards and five TD catches while averaging 13.4 yards per catch.

The 23-year-old got his degree last May and is close to getting a master's degree. He is not worried about what round he might be selected or how he will be used in the passing game.

"They only invited 28 receivers and I'm told last year no seniors were invited so this is a blessing. I am just taking it one step at a time and after the combine I have my Pro Day (at Louisville)," Copeland said. "There are a lot of sleepers in the draft, so you can't get caught up into what round you might get picked. All you need is one team to like you."

More than 300 NFL players are expected to attend the combine, which will be held Feb. 19 to 25 in Indianapolis. Receivers are scheduled to work out from Feb. 20-23.