A 'dude' like Copeland gives Mizzou a chance

Back in a college poetry class — hey, it was required, so don't laugh — there was this guy whose hairstyle was part Tina Turner, part Bob Marley and sort of Slash from Guns N' Roses.

It was pretty clever actually. He could be his own witness protection program. With rock-star hair everywhere as well as dreadlocks hiding his face, he could doze off without anybody knowing.

Always appreciated that guy and never laughed at him. He was his own man and, after all, different characters are what make the world go 'round.

Which brings me to Max Copeland, the left guard for the Missouri football Tigers.

If you're questioning Mizzou's chances Saturday in the SEC championship game against Auburn, or even if you've got an allergy to all things Mizzou, Copeland might change your mind.

See his mug shot? With the long hair, headband and left eyebrow raised? He's got the hilarious personality to match.

And that, folks, might most be the important X-factor in Mizzou's build-up to kickoff.

Last Saturday, after the win against Texas A&M, Copeland had many of us media busting a gut. There he was, eye black all over his face and a chunk of skin ripped between his eyebrows — making for a nice blood spot — and then went all philosopher.

Some media guy asked about Mizzou's turnaround from a 5-7 record to 11-1 overall this year and Copeland cracked in his raspy voice, "It took some strong-willed dudes."

Some TV guy asked about coach Gary Pinkel hugging him on senior night, and Copeland opened by saying, "When your head dude has tears in his eyes ... "

Yes, he called the coach "head dude."

And when a radio guy pried more into Mizzou recovering from last season, Copeland smiled wide, saying, "There was stuff that could have taken us down. That where this journey has me thinking, why," and then he grinned wider.

"I know that might be psycho-babble stuff."

This is why you gotta think Mizzou's got a chance Saturday.

Colorful characters are necessary on every team and especially football teams, which are undoubtedly militaristic in nature. After all, this is a sport where coaches bark out, "My grandma runs faster than that ... and she's dead" and other wonderful motivational tactics.

So they need guys to keep things loose in the locker room, guys to keep the calm on the sideline. You know, guys like Copeland.

Of course, he's eating all of this up — both this football season, his newfound fame and college in general.

As he should.

Copeland, you see, was probably better suited out of his Montana high school going to play for one of that state's competitive Football Championship Subdivision teams — same level as Missouri State — and yet sought out Mizzou, his dad's alma mater.

With nothing to lose, he walked on to the football team without a scholarship and yet last season finally earned a starting job. Even better, he didn't come here only to play football. Copeland doubles as a physics major and an honors student.

And, no, I'm not making that up.

Give me a teammate like him any day.

In fact, a radio guy Saturday night asked Copeland this question, which also was a huge compliment: "You've been here for big, big wins before as a freshman, as a walk-on, as a guy on the scout team, a blocking dummy maybe ... now you're out here for your 21st start, a leader on the line, how different does it feel?"

This was right in Copeland's wheelhouse.

"It feels different. They each have their sweet parts about them. It's humbling, the way things went," Copeland said of 2013 and then broke into a grin, as we all did. "It could have all gone to hell at some point."

Good stuff.

That's why you hope Saturday will be a good, competitive game. There are good guys out there on that field.

You know, we can talk all about each team's strengths — they rank in the top five in the SEC in key offensive and defensive statistics — and whether Mizzou should kick to Auburn return man Chris Davis (they shouldn't) or whether to order quarterback James Franklin to run a lot (they should).

But as long as Copeland's around, Mizzou's got a chance.

My guess? Hmmmm. Auburn 41, Mizzou 35.

Kary Booher, Sunday Sports Editor of the Springfield News-Leader, can be reached at 836-1180 or at kbooher@news-leader.com. Follow him on Twitter at @karybooherNL.


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