One of the most enjoyable things about watching a college football training camp is seeing a newcomer emerge that you’ve barely heard of.
In the first week of Bearcats camp it’s been true freshman Marquise Copeland.
“He just keeps climbing and climbing,” said co-defensive coordinator Robert Prunty. “It’s to the point where if we played a game tomorrow, he would be starting at defensive end with Silverberry Mouhon. Honestly, I’m shocked.”
Copeland started at right defensive end in Saturday’s scrimmage as Mark Wilson and Landon Brazile were kept off the field for precautionary reasons with minor injuries. That meant that Copeland was matched-up against First Team All-AAC offensive lineman Parker Ehinger.
“I looked at that match-up and I said, ‘If I start him against Parker, how is he going to handle it?’” said Prunty. “I kept looking at his eyes when we were doing pregame warmups and he didn’t have those ‘wide eyes.’ That let me know how poised he was.
“He made the first three plays of the scrimmage. He’s just an impressive young man. Great leverage, unbelievable hand placement for a kid coming out of high school, and he’s physically ready to play Division I football.”
“He really stepped it up,” said Mouhon. “Marquise went out there under pressure as a true freshman and kept his composure. He did everything Coach Prunty taught us to do and his play spoke for itself.”
“It was a good accomplishment but I’m capable of doing more,” Copeland told me. “There’s more to come.”
Copeland is from Bedford, OH, a suburb of Cleveland, and chose UC from a long list of college suitors including Kentucky and Wisconsin. He frequently lined up in a two-point stance during Saturday’s scrimmage and showed a burst of speed in rushing the quarterback.
“You can clearly see the level of speed that we’ve got now on the outside,” said Prunty. “We’ll play some hybrid guys that are defensive end-slash-linebackers.”
Copeland looked like a linebacker when he signed with Cincinnati, but at 6’3”, 260 pounds that is no longer the case.
“In my senior year of high school I was 230 pounds so I’ve gained about 30,” said Copeland. “I’ve been eating right and lifting every day. It was a long process, but I got bigger.”
I asked Mouhon how quickly Copeland caught his eye in training camp.
“It wasn’t even in camp – he caught my eye over the summer with the way he was able to pick things up,” Silverberry told me. “He’s a quick learner and he’s able to keep fighting. More power to him for coming out here and proving himself.”
“He’s mature beyond his age,” said Prunty. “I’ll be honest with you; I know that we’ve only been in camp for a week, but I’m shocked by his performance so far. But you know how this game is; you’ve got to get better every day. He’s a freshman – let’s see if he hits the wall or knocks the wall down.”
The last two defensive players to start the season opener as true freshman for the Bearcats were Mike Mickens and Terrill Byrd in 2005. Copeland is hoping to change that.
“I’m trying to work every day to get that spot,” said Copeland.
“He’s a real quiet guy but his play speaks loudly,” said Mouhon. “I’m really excited for him this year.”
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