Father's death weighs on Argos' Copeland

Toronto Argonauts' receiver Jermaine Copeland practices with teammates at McMahon Stadium in...

Toronto Argonauts' receiver Jermaine Copeland practices with teammates at McMahon Stadium in Calgary June 30, 2010. (JIM WELLS/QMI Agency)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:34 PM ET

Jeremaine Copeland stepped in front of defensive back Dee Webb, stretched from his toes, ensured he was in bounds and snared a pass with both hands.

The determination on Wednesday at training camp by the Argonauts veteran, voted the captain of the offence by his teammates a year ago before he played in one game with them, didn't surprise anyone.

Copeland, about to embark on his 11th season in the Canadian Football League, has developed into the kind of guy on whom the rest of the team can rely to be a true leader, whether it's making tough catches during the dog days of camp or giving support when a fresh-faced teammate needs it.

"He is the first person I went out and got (in February 2010) and there's a reason for that," Argos head coach and general manager Jim Barker said. "He just brings a professionalism. He makes everybody around him better, and he is exactly what you want. He is having a great camp."

The 34-year-old Copeland is doing so with a heavy heart. His father, Donald Faye Copeland, passed away unexpectedly on April 1 at the age of 57.

Copeland was close with his dad, and there are nights now when he lets the tears flow. But he does so when he is alone, making sure to keep his sadness from his teammates.

"You don't want to be down and you don't want the guys to see you down," Copeland said. "They see me down, and it might bring them down. I want to stay upbeat, just do what I do.

"Whenever I have been around the guys, it just goes away, because I am around love and I am around laughter. It takes your mind away."

Barker's not surprised Copeland has dealt with his loss in such a professional manner.

"I would not have been able to understand (had it affected his play), because I just know how he is," Barker said. "I know that when the funeral was over, he dedicated himself to his dad's memory. He is playing this year for his dad, and I know that will make him better."

With Copeland's mental strength part of the backdrop at camp, the Argos offence has clicked more as the workouts have progressed. Copeland led the Argos with 639 receiving yards last season, but he knows that was not good enough. An elbow injury that caused him to miss four games did not help, but Copeland hates excuses.

And you can bet Copeland wants nothing more than to spearhead an offence that relied too often on the hard-charging Cory Boyd last season.

"Every year, a receiver wants to come in knowing they can at least get to 1,000 (yards)," Copeland said. "I didn't accomplish what I wanted to.

"But this year, it's going to be a different offence. From the first day of camp, you could see it. I know for a fact our offence is going to be better. You can't win without a passing game, and you are seeing a connection now between quarterbacks and receivers.

"One year under Cleo (Lemon's) belt has made him better, he knows his reads. Dalton (Bell) is set in the Canadian system."

All the while, Copeland's thoughts will be with his dad.

"Nobody can really help you through it, and it's a burden that will be on my heart," Copeland said. "You live through it, and over time it will get easier. Keep moving forward, it's all you can do."

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/koshtorontosun


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