By The Associated Press
COLUMBIA — Max Copeland is not among the 17 Missouri players featured with photos and mini-bios on a two-page spread in the game release for Texas A&M.
Nobody on either side of the ball is better at breaking it down on media day with style and substance than the outspoken 6-foot-3, 300-pound senior guard with the distinctive long red beard parted in the middle.
There’s no beating around the bush.
“We love it dude. This is why we play the game, to play in high-stakes situations,” Copeland said. “Not from a sense of it being fun, but also you want to know what you’ll do, man, with all that pressure.
“Let’s see who you really are.”
The fifth-ranked Tigers (10-1, 6-1 SEC) have doubled their victory total from last year, but must beat No. 19 Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3) in the regular-season finale to advance to the SEC championship game. It’s a challenge the former walk-on embraces, and the reward for all that hard work behind the scenes that’s made him an integral part of an offense ranked 13th in the nation averaging 40 points.
Copeland was once a walk-on, so the climb was steep. Now he’s an integral part of an offense ranked 13th in the nation averaging 40 points.
So, there’s extra satisfaction to be in this position.
“For three years I was completely anonymous,” Copeland said. “I was humbled greatly because that limelight was non-existent. It hardened what I know to be true and what I know to be important.”
While relishing these times, Copeland knows they won’t last. He notes somewhat cosmically that “limelight love disappears when the wind re-directs.”
“All that being said, I don’t want that to make me sound cynical,” he added. “Here’s the thing: We’ve worked really hard, we’ve paid the price to be here.”
Missouri has emphasized psychological preparedness in recent seasons. Coach Gary Pinkel said he used to find it “crazy sitting around” on game days. During games he’s so absorbed he barely, if at all, notices cannon fire when the Tigers score a touchdown.
“When I first became a head coach I was ready to play on Tuesday and the players got the brunt of it,” the coach said.
Now, it’s all about focus.
“We train them like we’ve never done before,” Pinkel said. “Our players understand that a lot more than they did 5-6-7 years ago.”
It’s about being loose, too.
“I want the players to have fun, not be tight,” the coach said. “When you’re not thinking, you play better.”
Copeland credits assistant coach Pat Ivey with helping players think positively.
“It’s a lot harder than you think, especially when the pressure is high,” Copeland said. “This game, it’s not about great athleticism and great facilities, it’s about great minds. Whose mind is superior, who’s the most focused? That’s really what it comes down to.
“That’s what I think sets our program above the rest, the attention to the mental details.”
It all sounds a bit Zen. Copeland agrees, although he notes that notion conflicts with the “head-butting and stuff.”
“Really, it’s been something that’s helped me not just with football but with being a dude, being a guy, just going to class, getting my stuff done, making sure I make good choices,” Copeland said. “It all comes down to right thoughts.”