Copeland goes from walk-on to starter for Tigers

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Max Copeland doesn’t belong here. Yet he’s in the perfect place.

“I think I was born in the wrong time, man,” Missouri’s senior left guard said. “I think I was born about 1,000 years too late.”

And why is that?

“He could star in the movie Braveheart,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel quipped. “He would just walk in and they’d hire him right now.”

With his bushy, red mane, unkempt beard and always-present gash across his nose, Copeland looks more like a Viking warrior than a college student. But the self-proclaimed rock n’ roller spins quite the inspirational tale. From the walk-on that wasn’t going to sniff the field to the starting left guard for a No. 8 Missouri team set to play No. 13 Oklahoma State in the Jan. 3 Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas.

“I give him all the credit from where he’s been at and what he’s done,” center Evan Boehm said. “Going from a walk-on the first day to a starter in the SEC, that’s huge. A lot of hard work and dedication has gotten him here.”

It’s been quite the journey for Copeland. Raised a Missouri fan in Independence — Copeland’s father Michael was a Missouri graduate — Copeland dream of playing football for Missouri. The Copeland family moved to Billings, Mont., around Max’s sixth-grade year.

Copeland eventually spurned a scholarship offer from Montana, instead opting to take preferred walk-on status at Missouri heading into the 2009 season.

“As a walk-on coming up your confidence is low,” Copeland said. “I thought, ‘OK, I’m not as big and athletic as a lot of these guys, but I’ll just overcome that with being completely nuts.’ But then came a point where it was like, ‘No, you’re a good player. You’re just as big as anyone, you’re just as strong, and you work harder than anybody. You should be fully confident, you shouldn’t need craziness.’ Try as I might I can’t get rid of the craziness, but I think I’ve found a decent balance.”

Copeland was awarded a scholarship prior to the 2012 season for his hard work and dedication. He even started 11 games at right guard during Missouri’s inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference.

“Just tell him he can’t do something,” Pinkel said. “‘You’re not going to get a scholarship here.’ He got a scholarship here. ‘You’re not going to play here.’ Well, he played here. ‘You’re not going to start here.’ Well, he started here and had a real good year. That’s the message from Max Copeland.”

That message has been taken to heart by Missouri coaches and players alike.

“I think his enthusiasm has rubbed off on our offensive line as a whole,” Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. “Every day he has a big smile on his face and he’s all gung-ho and he comes to work. That’s not an act he does in front of the cameras, that’s how he is every day. … He brings a great attitude to our O-line.”

Added Boehm: “Just (Max’s) attitude of having fun and getting better every time he steps on the field. He works to get better. When you see that you want to get better every day. I feel like that’s why our line’s been so successful this year, because we set out to just get better each practice, to pick one thing out and get better at it. I think we’ve done that every time we’ve stepped on the field.”

Copeland has started 11 games at left guard in 2013 — missing the Indiana game and the parts of the contest against Arkansas State with an ankle injury. His perseverance earned him a nomination for the Burlsworth Trophy, awarded annually to the nation’s top collegiate football player who began his career as a walk-on. While he didn’t win — Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis earned the award — the nomination goes to show just how far Copeland has come.

“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Copeland said. “I’m not going to let it hit me. I’m going to let it all come crashing down on me, probably in a grocery store about a week later, just start break down crying. I think that’s kind of the mentality, the nature of our minds we’ve adopted. Whenever you accomplish something it’s where’s the next thing that you need? It might take me a while to let it hit me. It could take a week, it could take six months. I haven’t taken time to reminisce yet.”

Now the physics major, known for his eloquent answers, rock n’ roll attitude, is almost done with his five-year journey from walk-on to starter. Just the one game remains.

“How would I sum up my five-year journey here?” Copeland repeated a question asked by a reporter while fellow offensive linemen Mitch Morse and Justin Britt sat nearby with their legs crossed, eagerly awaiting story time. “That’s a loaded question. … How would I sum up my journey here? How would I sum up my journey here? There’s a whole lot of things I could say here. Rock n’ roll is a powerful thing, man. Rock n’ roll is a powerful thing.”

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