Damien Copeland always had a hard time staying healthy.
As a true freshman at the University of Louisville, Copeland was projected to see the field but suffered a knee injury during the preseason and was redshirted.
Copeland missed the spring of 2010 with a foot injury and then played seven games that season, hauling in seven catches for 113 yards. The expectations were he was primed for a big season in 2011 before a foot injury in an early game against North Carolina forced him to miss much of the season.
"I had some bad luck," Copeland recalls.
But when given a chance last season – and after staying healthy – Copeland quickly became a star for the Cardinals on offense.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Copeland led the team with 50 catches for 628 yards and two touchdowns and had two of the biggest third-down conversions of the season, against Kentucky and Cincinnati.
"It was nice to be able to stay healthy," Copeland said. "I just tried to do whatever I could to help the team win. It was all about confidence."
Now, Copeland is the senior leader of the AFROS (America's Finest Receivers On Saturday) and is expecting to have another big season. Copeland is currently sidelined with a minor injury but is expected back for the first game – which is Sept. 1 at 3:30 p.m. against Ohio University.
"I hope a kid like that can take another step," wide receiver coach Ron Dugans said. "He has the confidence, now he knows his role. Last year was really his only year of playing because of all of those injuries.
"He knows his role has to be a little bigger for him this year."
U of L quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said last month that Copeland was so solid he "catches everything," while offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said he expects another banner season from Copeland.
"He had a great year for us and we expect that again," Watson said. "He's a very detailed player and he's so fundamentally sound."
Copeland said he felt like he always had it in him, but the injuries forced him on the sidelines more than on the field his first three years.
"I know what to expect now," Copeland said. "I just want to work hard, give back and make sure these young guys watch what we're doing. They learn from us, the little things we do. And those little things make a difference."
"We have a lot of talent (in the wide receiver room), so I have to make the most of my opportunities. It's a team and not anything to do with ‘I' or ‘me'."
Copeland is one of five players who is a holdover from the previous staff and is expected to be a major leader on this team.
"It's crazy how time flies," he explained. "I remember when I came in, Trent Guy and those guys were the seniors and now I'm playing the senior role. I see how it felt when they were seniors and now it's my turn. I take a lot of pride in it and I'm going to help get the best out of the guys."