In his senior season of 2010, LSU wide receiver Terrence Toliver caught 41 passes for 579 yards and five touchdowns, including a game-winning fade rout in the Swamp in October to keep the Tigers unbeaten.
But his greatest catch in October of 2010 may have come with eyes as opposed to hands. That’s because he was the first to see an ability in at-the-time freshman defensive tackle J.C. Copeland that no one else had seen.
“I was standing right here in front of the locker room with Terrence Toliver getting ready for walk-throughs, and Terrence Toliver said, ‘You can play fullback man.’ I said, ‘I’m not playing fullback,’” explained Copeland Monday. “Coach Stud overheard us talking, and Coach Stud said, ‘Can you play fullback, J.C.?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I played a little bit in a package our coach had in high school.’ Next thing you know he said, ‘Okay, I’m gonna bring it up in the team meting.’ I wasn’t thinking about it. I went through a regular practice. Then the next day I was going to the defensive line meeting room, and [Coach Stud] said ‘Where you going?’ I said, ‘I was gonna go in and watch film.’ He said, ‘Nah, you’re going to be a fullback. Go in the running back room. I wish you luck.’ And that’s all she wrote.”
Copeland appeared in his first game as a fullback against McNeese just one week after Toliver’s heroics in Gainesville, and he’s since become one of the best blocking backs in the country.
“It was just bringing what I brought to the table in the D-Line, my fast step and my aggressiveness,” Copeland said. “I brought it to the offensive side of the ball, and I used it to the best of my abilities.”
That, he did. He, along with 2011 senior James Stampley, literally led the way for an LSU running game that humbled and embarrassed opponents to the point of dejection. The Tigers were 22nd in the nation with 202.57 rushing yards per game and second in the SEC, but those numbers don’t tell the story of how dominant the Tigers really were in that phase of the game.
“My first game I played, I realized I was playing in the SEC and had to step it up,” he said, looking back to 2010. “I learned a lot from Stamp, just watching the way he played, how he hit linebackers and stuff. Knowing that I was bigger than him and a little bit faster in my first step, I could be a more dominant fullback. Kill linebackers, because there’s no other fullback in the country that’s 280 or 270 that could run as well and hit as hard as I do. So I really wanted to explode and be that guy and be a game changing fullback.”
Again, mission accomplished.
With Stampley gone to graduation, Copeland has assumed responsibility as the main fullback in 2012 with Connor Neighbors playing sparsely, and LSU has powered the ball for 558 rushing yards in its two game this season.
Copeland said he has lost 30 pounds since making the transition to fullback, and you can tell he looks much leaner in 2012 than he did in 2011.
“Losing weight, it was hard. It was very, very hard. I was eating early, eating light, running and lifting and drinking a lot of water,” he said. “Right now I’m maintaining it, trying to lose about five more pounds so I could get to 265 so I can get a little bit faster.”
Because of his hard work, LSU head coach Les Miles has rewarded Copeland with goal line carries in 2012, and he’s responded with a pair of bulldozing touchdown runs, one in each Tiger victory. Add his beautiful 16-yard misdirection run against North Texas, and he’s got six rushes for 35 yards this year.
“If they give it to me, it’s an honor to carry the ball… Not a lot of fullbacks get to carry the ball,” the junior said.
He admitted he wasn’t entirely disappointed when Spencer Ware was tackled at the two in the first quarter Saturday. He knew he could finish the job, and he did on his second attempt.
“I wanted him to score a touchdown, but if he doesn’t, I’m going to pick up where he left off,” Copeland said.
Miles even thinks a few passes could be in Copeland’s future.
“I think that the ability for a fullback to carry the ball and the ability for a fullback to block and therefore receive the ball kind of makes him a whole guy. I think that he’s everything that we need,” the head coach said. “…It’s an advantage to have a guy that can run as well as he does and block as well as he does and see if we can get him some receptions, because we really think that he’s that guy.”
And now after hitting against the Tigers’ defense in practice every day, he may have received the sincerest form of flattery: The defense wanting him back on their side of the ball.
“You’re just too damn big. Why don’t you play D-Tackle?” Copeland said a defensive lineman told him during practice last week. “I said, ‘I can play D-Tackle. I just came over here so I could play on this side of the ball.’”
Now, Copeland has revolutionized what LSU looks for in a fullback as the Tigers have received a 2013 verbal commit from high school defensive tackle/fullback Kennard Swanson, and unlike the vast majority of the schools recruiting him, LSU plans on playing him on offense.
Somebody had to shatter the mold, and Copeland has done it.