Cope-ing with pressure

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:57 AM ET

Sure it was only a training camp practice coverage but Jeremaine Copeland's reception and run was still eye-catching.

To Copeland, his 60-yard play off a Henry Burris throw that saw him zoom through the defenders was more of a statement.

Heading into his third training camp with the Calgary Stampeders, Copeland knew he was facing intense scrutiny.

Coming off a sub-par 2006 campaign -- 54 receptions for 978 yards and only six touchdowns -- the veteran receiver has heard the questions abound as to whether he can still do the job at age 30.

His reception in Monday's practice was an answer.

"That's what the off-season was about, trying to get my speed back to what it used to be," he said. "I used to be fast in college and fell back because my work ethic wasn't the same. I feel faster."

That's not the only change he vows to have made.

Last year, Copeland was among the most visible participants in the circus that sorrounded the club. Instead of making headlines with game-winning touchdowns, it was for being the ringleader of all those choreographed touchdown celebrations and wars of words.

Copeland insists he'll be concentrating solely on his job between the lines.

It's a team-mandated approach but one he's bought in to.

"When you get older, you get a different mindset," Copeland said. "When you're younger, you're wild and do what you want to do and be that guy out there -- 'It's all about me.' When you get older, you still want to have the best career for you but you know it's about the whole team. You want that camaraderie in the locker-room and on the field to be perfect.

"I'm just trying to be the best leader I can be without getting out of line. I'm not going to be that guy any more. I want to be that leader, that head man in charge that takes care of business on the field.

"I'm more focused on what I have to be."

GM Jim Barker, who's known Copeland for years, is adamant there is a noticeable differencet.

"Every time he walks by me, I want to give him a hug," Barker said. "He's more like a son to me because he's been with me so long. I've seen him go through things, I've seen his personality change and I've seen things in his personal life that have moulded him to who he is.

"I think he got the message of what the organization expected of him. When he came in here, we didn't know what we were. He was the first guy, first big free-agent we signed and he did what he thought was right.

"Through the two years, the organization has moulded itself into what it wants to be and Jeremaine has followed that. He understands.

"Jeremaine didn't go out to hurt anybody when he did the things he did. He now has a clear vision of what the Calgary Stampeders mean to this community. He's doing everything in his power to be something everybody in the stands can be proud to be associated with."

Copeland's action back up his words.

He took a 25% pay cut on his hefty salary -- a wise move considering all those players who didn't believe they had to adjust to the league's new salary system and are on the outside looking in -- and dedicated himself harder in the off-season.

"I didn't take a pay cut just because we needed it for the salary cap. I did it to let our organization know I wanted to be part of this," he said. "If I didn't take that pay cut, I would have been released, but I took it happily.

"I know we have the potential to win the Grey Cup and I want to be part of it. I love this organization, I love the fans out here and this is where I want to finish my career, if possible."

He's also found a target to emulate, long-time Winnipeg standout Milt Stegall, the league's all-time touchdown reception leader.

"That's exactly who I'm marked up to be," Copeland said. "He was just as wild as I was when he was younger. Now I'm getting older, it's about settling down and being about the business."

Still, Copeland knows there are plenty of doubters who don't believe he's turned a new leaf. To them, he has "nothing" to say.

"You just let your actions speak louder than words."


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