About an hour and a half before the Oklahoma vs. Kansas football game, Jayhawk coach David Beaty stepped away from his team for a few minutes.
He walked outside the locker room and waited there for what could potentially be his future. As a handful of recruits walked down the tunnel, a reality set in for Mac Copeland. Much like Beaty’s future was in Copeland’s hands, the Wichita Collegiate senior’s path rested with a coach who has won three games in three seasons.
Copeland, a three-star offensive lineman per 247 sports, is set to sign with KU on Wednesday, and despite the Jayhawks recent irrelevance on the college football landscape, he is all in.
“I hear about it everywhere I go; I hear about ‘KU’s record is terrible,’ ‘they’re terrible,’ all that, but I don’t really look at the record,” Copeland said. “I could be a part of something that could be something very successful and a great turnaround.
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“Everyone wants to be on a winning team, but when you’re part of a big turnaround or a big comeback, it’s really something special.”
This is the first year of the NCAA’s reinstated early signing period. College seniors and junior college players can sign letters of intent Wednesday through Friday, or wait for the traditional first Wednesday in February.
The Copelands are familiar with football in the state of Kansas. Mac’s grandfather earned a football scholarship at Wichita State. His dad, David, attended KU, and his brothers, Myles and Mitchell, each spent four years playing football at Kansas State.
Myles went to Manhattan first, and Mitchell followed as soon as his brother left. With eight straight years of Wildcats, the house turned purple, Mac said. Now with Mitchell soon to leave K-State and Mac on his way into Lawrence, it’s back to blue.
Neither Myles nor Mitchell earned a scholarship offer from K-State out of Collegiate, but college football is a thread in the Copelands’ DNA. When Mac was 8, he started going to football camps with Myles. Mac went on visits with his brother and started getting a sense for recruitment.
“Now that they’ve gone through that process and they’ve worked their tails off, they really deserve all the success,” Mac said. “I really just want to follow in their footsteps because they’ve really been role models for me all my life.… I’m very lucky to have them.”
Mac’s dad couldn’t be prouder, he said. David didn’t play in college and never coaxed his sons into pursuing college ball. The routes they have taken have been their own and have made significant impacts on the community around them.
A few weeks ago, David was in the gym and a stranger approached him and told him how impressed he was while watching Mac attack his workout. David said that isn’t something he can teach as a father.
“I’ve never told them to go to the gym, whether we’re on vacation or wherever we’re at,” David said. “They make sure they maintain their diet and their regimen. They surround themselves with disciplined kids, and they see what benefit that is not only physically but mentally and educationally, and they just do it on their own.”
At Collegiate, Mac became known for his work ethic. He was chosen to The Eagle’s All-Metro team this fall, his name has been peppered throughout all-class and all-league teams during his time along the Spartans’ O-line.
Collegiate coach Mike Gehrer said one of the only things separating Mac from his older brothers is his size. Copeland marks up at 6-foot-5 (five inches taller than his brothers) and 255 pounds and is every bit of his frame. His bench press nears 350 pounds, and his squat is well over 400.
“Nobody outworks Mac,” Gehrer said. “He’s the first guy there. He’s the last guy to leave. It’s innate. He believes you’re supposed to be completely drenched in sweat when you get done working, and that’s what he did.”
All of that is a testament to the relationships Copeland has forged with his brothers.
He said he grew up wanting to live up to the standards his brothers set. Playing football together in the backyard or with friends was always tough because of the age difference, but Copeland said he always admired their competitive nature and how they carried themselves.
Now with his commitment to KU, not K-State, people will point to a house divided, but Copeland said that couldn’t be further from the truth, and his dad said the same thing. Both brothers, both parents and the rest of his supporting cast are behind his decision.
“It is a little bit tongue-and-cheek, and we have to change a lot of the clothes we have in our closets,” David said. “But when he said, ‘I have this opportunity,’ they said, ‘Do it.’ ”
Of course he will continue to hear the KU football jokes as he has since his verbal commitment April 25, but Copeland said he knows the situation he is going into. And with Beaty leading the charge and with the support of his family, he said he wouldn’t have it any other way – only emphasized by his most recent unofficial visit Saturday.
“We probably talked for about two hours with Beaty,” Copeland said. “Just talked about family and football and life. He’s such a personal guy – just such a great guy. And I cannot wait to get up there, knowing that I’m in his hands.”
Having only won a single game in 2017, a 38-16 victory against Southeast Missouri State in the season-opener, there was bound to be talk of Beaty’s firing. But KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger confirmed Beaty will remain in Lawrence for at least another year after the Jayhawks’ season-ending loss at Oklahoma State.
Zenger said he and Beaty evaluated the program throughout the season and came to a mutual conclusion by the end of it.
“While we know the results of this season are not acceptable, the rebuilding of this program is a process, and coach Beaty will continue to lead us through it,” Zenger said.
Copeland repeated the same narrative.
“I know it’s close,” he said. “And I know they believe in Beaty. I believe in the process, too. It’s like trusting the process. What Beaty believes, I believe too, because he really means it when he says he wants to see this place become successful. He loves Kansas. He loves KU. He loves the culture there.
“And I’m all bought in.”