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Gar-Field’s Austin Copeland Jumps Out on Defense

Contrary to how he has performed on the football field this fall, the 2008-09 indoor track and field season demonstrated to Gar-Field junior Austin Copeland that, yes, he actually does have physical limitations.

In both the long and triple jump, Copeland, then a sophomore, pushed his body to its limit before eventually succumbing to back pain. Copeland later learned that he had a pair of stress fractures in his lower back, a nagging injury that can feel like one continuous spasm.

As much as Copeland wanted to continue, he was physically unable, bowing out after taking first in the Cardinal District triple jump with a leap of 41 feet 6 inches and sixth in the long jump at 19-1 1/2.

Copeland sat out the rest of the winter season and didn’t even bother to try outdoor track and field in the spring. He even took the entire month of June off before resuming his offseason preparation for this current football season.

Judging by Copeland’s performance thus far and his emergence as one of the Washington area’s premier defense players, the rest and relaxation wasn’t such a bad idea. In seven games, Copeland has totaled 66 1/2 tackles, including 17 for a loss. He also has seven sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

“I should have stopped, but I kept forcing myself to jump,” the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Copeland said that winter indoor season. “Finally the doctor told me to stop or else I would break something.”

During his team’s most recent outing, a 34-0 win over Potomac (Va.), Copeland was a one-man wrecking crew, totaling 11 tackles, a sack and an interception while also causing a fumble.

Categorizing Copeland might be the only thing more difficult than stopping him. Although he has the build of a defensive end, he only really plays there about a third of the time; during the other snaps, Copeland will line up as an outside linebacker while also dropping back as a safety from time to time.

“He plays well within our scheme,” said Gar-Field Coach Tom Gryder, whose team is 4-3 this season, 2-1 in the Cardinal District and will play at Forest Park on Friday. “When you have an athletic kid like that, you have to try to get him in space.”

During a few of the Indians’ audibles, which often shift the team’s defensive set to a Cover-2 or Cover-4 alignment, Copeland will drop back and become a safety, reading his side of the field and breaking on any ball that comes near him.

“I like to be a versatile player,” Copeland said. “I know what I have to do, and I know how to play each position. This is my second year doing this, so I’m able to prepare myself before the game and know what the other team is going to do.”

Despite his numbers, the recruiting interest for Copeland has been relatively mild. So far he’s been invited to watch games at Maryland, Penn State, Louisville and Boston College, although that could pick up as his play continues to draw notice.

Copeland’s primary focus during those July and August sessions was his speed, a no-brainer when you move around as much as he does. Though he couldn’t recall exactly when it took place, a speed clinic with ex-Redskin Shawn Springs helped significantly with his quickness and endurance.

“Of all the things we did, it was hard and you had to keep fighting,” Copeland said. “But I really wanted to get better, so it didn’t bother me.”

Copeland’s increased workload during the offseason, coupled with his emergence as a defensive star, has changed things significantly for him around Dale City. Now he’s having folks approach him who might not have known his name before and getting recognized in places where before he might’ve walked anonymously.

“I’m starting to know more people and people are starting to respect me,” Copeland said. “People are interested in coming to the games to see me perform, and where I’m at now … it’s kind of fun.”

By Jason Mackey  |  October 14, 2009; 9:55 PM ET
Categories:  Cardinal District , Football , Forest Park , Gar-Field , Potomac (Va.)  
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