Copeland was a big deal for the 2018 class

(Photo: Kan Li)

It wasn’t as easy as maybe it should have been. Pensacola (FL) Escambia High School receiver Jacob Copeland was committed to Florida back in July before last season and stayed with the commitment well beyond the firing of former Coach Jim McElwain. A day before Dan Mullen was hired at Florida, Copeland finally dropped his commitment to the Gators. It has been a hard road to get him back, but one that the Gator head coach is happy that finally came his way.

Copeland isn’t the biggest receiver out there at 6-foot and 192 pounds. He isn’t the fastest receiver out there, but he is a guy that absolutely makes plays with the ball in his hands. You can never have enough of those on your roster, and Florida got the best receiver in The Sunshine State and one of the Top 100 players in the country on Wednesday when Copeland picked the Gators on national television.

“You look at Jacob Copeland who’s one of the top receivers in America,” Mullen would say at his post National Signing Day press conference. “Was obviously a top priority for us from the day we got hired here. I think he’s a mismatch problem on the field. You can move him around. You can motion him in the backfield, give him the ball, throw him bubble screens or throw him vertically down the field or work over the middle of the field on option routes. He’s a complete player and is a great playmaker with the ball in his hands.”

Copeland is the kind of player that really fits the ideology of what Mullen is looking for, guy that can stay on the field and pop into different positions to give the defense headaches.

That is why throughout the process, he was the top target they were looking for in this high school class.

That he decommitted just before Mullen was hired, meant that the staff was going to have to work a little harder. But, as long as he stayed on the up-and-up with them, they felt pretty good about their chances. That is what Mullen thought of the relationship they quickly developed with the star receiver.

“You know what, early on — we had a great relationship,” Mullen said. He called and said, ‘hey, Coach, I’m going to de-commit and take visits, and I appreciated that, and we had a great conversation’. He said, ‘I still love Florida, I can’t wait to come visit Florida, get to know you, get to know everybody in the new staff’. Everything was handled right.”

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ANALYSIS: Jacob Copeland has the Potential to Make an Early Impact at Florida

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One issue with a new coaching transition and this transition recruiting class is that the staff didn’t have a lot of time to develop relationships. With Copeland, his love of the Gators, a childhood favorite, made it a little easier.

“We’ve communicated with him the whole time,” Mullen said. “ I think obviously there was comfort with the University, there was comfort in coming and representing his home state, there was comfort in he got to go to the Under Armour All-American game and go to go play with several of our commitments that are already enrolled in school. I think there was comfort when he showed up on his visit that he could sit down with those guys and say, ‘hey, you’ve been here for three weeks, what’s it like now? I know you just got here, what’s it like to be new here?’”

“I think there was a great deal of comfort for him.”

Tennessee got in the mix for Copeland in December, but it was Alabama that really applied the heat to try and land the young man in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide always have a big presence in the Pensacola area which is about an hour and a half closer than it is to Gainesville from Pensacola. They also have the recruiting savvy of Nick Saban and company.

That led to a lot of drama in the last few days for recruitniks, but Mullen was at peace with the situation in the time that directly followed the Copeland’s official visit to Florida.

“You know, over the last 72 hours in talking to him every time, I think he’s had a lot of stress put on him, a lot of people trying to pull him in different directions, and you know, the one thing I always told him is just say, hey, you know, you’ve got to block that out,” Mullen said. “You’ve got to see and know what’s best for you and your future.”

WATCH: Four-star WR Jacob Copeland commits to Florida, mom gets up and leaveshttps://t.co/ax0ZOX0QVK pic.twitter.com/S7Qhdu7y4f

— CBS Sports CFB (@CBSSportsCFB) February 7, 2018

Copeland was able to commit live on ESPN in what turned out to be the most dramatic commitment of the day for the network. As he went to put the Gator hat on, his mother, wearing an Alabama sweater and a Tennessee hat, got up and left the stage from sitting beside him annoyed by his choice of school.

Copeland fought the emotions of the moment and continued on with the segment stoically answering questions about the commitment and what his mother just did. It absolutely showed what this commitment meant to him.

“It was great to see even with his announcement today,” Mullen said. “When he sat down and he did a lot of soul searching and a lot of praying, and he found that he knew in his heart this is where he belonged, that’s what you want out of this process.

“A lot of people look at recruiting as a game; it’s not. You’re talking about young people’s lives and their futures, and when you have a young man that can sit down there and say with all of this stress and pressure and people telling me I need to do this or I need to do that or coaches saying this or saying that, when I can sit down and know in my heart I’m going to the place I belong, everybody in the country should be excited he came here to the University of Florida because that’s a young man living his dream and doing what’s in his heart, and I think that really is what this is all about.”

Copeland is the highest rated prospect that the Gators signed from the 247Sports Composite rankings. But more than being a prized recruit, he is a strong willed young man that everyone knows will do everything he has to do for the University of Florida now. That is what makes getting him a big deal for this 2018 class.

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