On wild path to dreams, Copeland wants to settle in

Rock 'n' roll enthusiast Max Copeland seeks a balance between the excitement and the present.
Junior offensive guard Max Copeland moves up field to make a block on a Southeastern Louisiana defender Saturday night during the Tigers' 62-10 season-opening win. Copeland, a former walk-on, was awarded a scholarship over the summer and made his first career start in the game.

Max Copeland takes his hand. It's the same one he rests on his bent knee when in position, when in the time between the down and the snap, in the seconds divided by calm and calamity, joyful calamity.

He takes that left hand and presses his index finger to the side of his forehead’s temple, then to the part of his chest where the heart thumps.

In his head, it made sense to go to the University of Montana. Montana had made an offer, had catered him steak and potatoes. The 6-foot-3-inch, 290-pound offensive lineman, irrelevant on the national recruiting stage, had a scholarship waiting for him in Missoula, Mont., a drive away from his hometown in Billings, Mont.

“It wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll,” said Copeland, a heavy-metal junkie now wearing his shoulder-length blonde mane bunched up behind a gold bandana. “I’m not gonna go where I feel wanted. I’m gonna go to a place where I feel I wanna be, not because I’m being bought there. That’s what made this pure. I wasn’t lured here. I was brought here, and not by steak dinners …”

In his heart, Copeland is the small son of his father, Michael, a Missouri alumnus. He is the 2-year-old wearing the MU jumper in the picture his parents still have. He is the kid who has been watching the Tigers on game day since an age he cannot recall.

I’m gonna be one of them. I’m supposed to be one of them. I’m supposed to be one of them.

“I feel this is a calling,” he said. “I’ve been called here. I’ve been summoned here.”

That was him in the locker room when a graduate assistant told him to see offensive line coach Josh Henson, who recalls why Copeland, a walk-on, traveled with the team last year.

“We said that he was our spiritual leader,” Henson said.

Copeland thought back to that day at the end of August, when two-a-days were wrapping up.

“First, I thought I was in trouble,” Copeland said. “So I’m thinking, ‘What did I do?'”

He was told then that coach Gary Pinkel wanted to see him in his office.

“I’ve gotten my hopes up before, and it didn't turn out well,” Copeland said. “So I didn't get my hopes up for this one.”

That was him with news he was given a scholarship, the news he would unbelievably deliver to his parents, Michael and Joanne, the news he would let wash away the financial burden he had felt.

“When I made this decision, they (my parents) had to take some hits themselves big-time,” he said. “So it was a victory for them, and I’m glad I got to bring them honor because that’s important, you know, because they deserve it. They worked hard, just like I did, to make this happen. I’m glad I got to bring them honor.”

That was him on the scoreboard Saturday night before the season-opening 62-10 thrashing against Southeastern Louisiana. That was him bobbing his head and shredding an air guitar on the video board during starting lineups, the reaction that came to him after listening to Black Label Society earlier on the day it was filmed.

That was him before his first start listening to the Ace of Spades, “his anthem,” he calls it. It was one of the last songs he listened to the last time he started in high school.

If you like to gamble, I tell you I'm your man You win some, lose some, it's all the same to me The pleasure is to play, it makes no difference what you say

It was one of the last ones he listened to before being devoured by the tunnel’s smoke, before cracking through the misty shroud for his first start.

“It was, gosh, it was surreal, man,” he said. “I really tried to keep my emotions out of it because … that’s not what that was about. It was about doing your fundamentals right and getting good reps in. I think I did a decent job of that, of kind of sweeping emotions under the rug for a little bit.”

But there were points in the game when he let himself loose. Left tackle Elvis Fisher attempts to explain them with a straight face. A big smile takes over.

“I can't even explain it,” Fisher said. “You’ll have to ask him. He was funny though, man. I was laughing just on the field listening to him — he was just so funny …”

He can’t lower the volume of rock ‘n’ roll because, as he said, that’s never the answer. But Copeland says he must find a way to contain himself.

“It’s about finding that sweet spot just right there where you can play with intensity but also not be out of control,” he said.

The rock ‘n’ roll continues, and Copeland talks about what he and his team must do as they approach the brute of a Southeastern Conference schedule. Georgia comes to town Saturday.

He let himself loose in his first start, and there’s evidence it worked. The coaching staff gave him the highest performance grade of any lineman at 92 percent.

“My dad made me promise,” Copeland said, getting quiet. “He said, ‘I know you're focused (and) in the zone. But you’ve got to promise to take a little joy for me.’ And I did that. I kept that promise.”

There were small moments, he said, when he allowed himself to breathe it in. He allowed himself the reminder. He was the kid who promised himself a dream, and the kid who went against logic to realize it.

“Man,” he said. “It was rock ‘n’ roll.”

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