Receiving accolades

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:31 AM ET

Two years ago Jeremaine Copeland was asked to take a sizeable pay cut.

Or be cut.

Armed with an intense desire to stay in Calgary where the Stamps receiver had fallen in love and would soon have his first child, he agreed.

He responded on the field with another 1,000-yard season in which he was not only the team's leading receiver, but tops in the league with 10 touchdown receptions.

Yet, last year he entered camp a 31-year-old on the bubble once again, having to prove to a new coaching staff not just that he deserved a healthy paycheque, but a roster spot at all. He endured.

Although his numbers were down, he played a significant role in snagging Calgary's first Grey Cup since 2001, which leads us to this year.

With rumours swirling he had to take another financial haircut this winter to stay in town, the 32-year-old is back.

And despite the fact there are several younger and cheaper talents in town to try taking his job, there's little talk he'll be going anywhere soon.

"This year, I feel like they have confidence in me," said Copeland yesterday on Day 2 of camp.

"I think they feel I came in a lot quicker and I'm just trying to prove it and show the coaches I'm ready to go. I want them to feel 'we ain't even thinking about (cutting) him.' I don't look behind me. I just look in front. I figure if I'm the frontrunner, when it comes down to it, I'm not giving up my job easily."

It's a nice departure from a year ago.

"I don't think it was scary last year -- I just think it was an eye-opener," said Copeland, one of the league's premier receivers since 2001.

"It wasn't a case where I was thinking I was going to get released -- I just had to come out and prove myself a little more than in the past. It got me to dig in for sure."

Instead of being the go-to guy he'd been accustomed to for years, Copeland spent last year playing more of a setup man for the two new stars, Ken-Yon Rambo and Nik Lewis. And while many worried he wouldn't be able to accept a lesser role, you believe him when he insists he's fine with it.

"Don't get me wrong, I love being the No. 1 receiver, but on this team, when you've got guys like Ken-Yon and Nik, you never know who is going to be the No. 1 receiver," said Copeland, who was third in catches (52), yardage (764) and majors (7) last season.

"Last year it was Rambo, but the year before it wasn't -- it was Nik one year and me one year. I can't complain. All you can do is take advantage of the opportunities they throw your way."

Something he feels he didn't do until late in the season when, not coincidentally, the Stamps caught fire.

"The first half of the season, I think I let my coaches and my team down a little bit by not being 100%," said Copeland, grading his season as "average."

"I had a couple tweaks and a lot of drops early and it showed because we were only 5-4. In the second half, I really stepped it up, and once I did, it took a lot of pressure off of Nik and Rambo and opened up the field a bit more and we looked like a real championship team."

Durable (he's missed two games in six years), consistent (he's one of only four active players to make 50 grabs in six straight seasons) and a winner (he also won the Grey Cup with Montreal in 2002, an XFL championship and a national championship with the University of Tennessee, where he was Peyton Manning's backup), it's Copeland's leadership that makes him most valuable now.

"I've been a leader ever since I was five years old and I take pride in that because a lot of times that's how you win championships."

With wife Talia and 17-month old Isaiah adding balance and perspective to his ever-changing career, Copeland believes he can still play three more years.

"If I'm blessed to play longer so be it," he said. "I'm not going to step away from this game until I really feel like there's somebody better than me that can take my spot without question, hands down. But until that day I'm going to go and give you everything I have, without question."


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