Citadel’s Copeland has come long way

The Citadel’s Dondray Copeland (22) celebrates an interception in the Bulldogs’ season-opening win against Davidson. Paul Zoeller/Staff

If Doerun, Ga., has a claim to fame, Dondray Copeland is not sure what it is.

“It’s a small town, and I know everybody there,” Copeland said of his hometown in south Georgia. “There’s no high school, no middle school, just an elementary school. There’s no restaurants, but there are three gas stations and a Piggly Wiggly.”

Doerun, with a population less than 800, is in Colquitt County, about 70 miles north of Tallahassee, Fla. Colquitt County High School, located in nearby Moultrie, has produced former MLB pitcher Dennis Powell and NFL lineman Cameron Erving, who played at Florida State.

“It’s fun growing up in a place like that,” said Copeland, a redshirt junior on the Bulldogs’ football team. “Everybody knows each other, and all the kids get along. There’s not anything really bad going on. Just a small, friendly town.

“My grandparents live two blocks away, so I’m always at their house. My cousins and aunts and uncles live right down the road. We’d just play outside all the time. The park up the street had four basketball goals, and we’d play football across the street in a big field.”

If he keeps producing at his current rate, Copeland himself may wind up being Doerun’s claim to fame.

Always an intriguing physical prospect at 6-2 and 213 pounds, Copeland spent his first year at The Citadel as a redshirt on the scout team, then was limited to special-teams play for most of the next two seasons.

He was something of a ‘tweener, not quite big enough for linebacker and not quite flexible enough for safety.

“I was always kind of an in-between guy,” Copeland said. “I got recruited as a safety, but I was kind of big and not really flexible like those guys were. I had to really work on my flexibility and range of motion to get to the point where I could actually produce and help the team.”

With The Citadel off to a 2-0 start this season, Copeland has found a home at the “bandit” position in the Bulldogs’ defense. It’s sort of a hybrid between linebacker and defensive back, requiring skills ranging from rushing the passer to covering receivers downfield.

In two games, Copeland is tied for second on the team with 14 tackles, and his interception was a highlight of the Bulldogs’ 69-0 win over Davidson in the season opener. He had a career-high eight tackles in a 28-10 win over Western Carolina last week.

“At the bandit position, I can fly around and make a lot of plays,” said Copeland, who is majoring in electrical engineering. “I can blitz, I can play one-on-one with receivers, drop back in coverage, a lot of different things.

“You’ve got to have disciplined eyes, be able to recognize routes. Those are the big things.”

Citadel coach Mike Houston said it took a lot of work for Copeland to reach this stage.

“You see his physical size, and he is a great athlete,” Houston said. “But we didn’t know if he could be a half-of-the-field safety with the movement that demands. With the bandit position, having a guy who can play man coverage and is also big and physical enough to play in the box, he’s a good fit there.”

Despite helping his high school team to a state championship game, Copeland did not catch the eye of home-state team Georgia Southern, where the Bulldogs play Saturday. He was on special teams when the Bulldogs last played the Eagles in 2013, Georgia Southern’s final season in the Southern Conference.

Georgia Southern is now a member of the FBS Sun Belt Conference, which the Eagles won last year with an 8-0 league mark and 9-3 overall record. Copeland and his teammates are eager to measure the difference the move to FBS has made for Georgia Southern.

“It’s usually a tight game when we play against them,” Copeland said. “We get to see what they are now, but they get to see what we are now, too.”