Q&A With CAC’s First Football Coach
Jerry Copeland came to CAC in 1975 and helped launch the football program. In addition to acting as head coach, Copeland served as the school’s athletic director, basketball and track coach, and taught Bible. Copeland sat down with the e-Mustang staff to reflect on the initial years of CAC’s football program and the Mustangs’ first season playing in the AAA. Tomorrow night, CAC will honor Copeland and the members of his first five AAA football teams during halftime.
What did the early days of CAC’s football program look like?
We practiced on a field you wouldn’t believe. It was just a backyard of a church with a few trees, and it was maybe the size of a basketball court. Our weight room was an old shed someone had given us, and some of the weights we used were literally pipe and concrete. We played games at Jacksonville Junior High since we didn’t have our own field — we never had a home game until maybe ‘84 or ‘85.
How did you prepare for that first season?
One of our student’s dads was the president of the booster club. One day, he and I just walked into the old Spalding store and told the worker we were from CAC and we were starting a football program. We told them we needed some helmets and shoulder pads and the whole works to suit out a football team! We maybe had 15 kids, so it wasn’t a big purchase for Spalding, but it was a huge purchase for us. We had some money with us, but we didn’t have enough to cover it, so they allowed us to put half on credit.
Tell us about those first few teams you coached.
My first year coaching we weren’t in the AAA, and we just played wherever we could get a game — mostly against private schools. We had two juniors on the team and the rest were ninth and tenth graders. The very first game I remember was against Lee Academy in Marianna.
What was that game like?
At the time, we were just playing junior varsity teams and mostly on Thursday nights. Lee had scheduled the game on a Friday night and told us we would be playing their JV team. When we got up there, we realized their varsity team had dressed out. So we were playing varsity athletes on a Friday night, but on the very first snap of the game we ran 68 yards for a touchdown. I guess it shook them up a bit — they were so mad they ended up beating us 57-6!
What was the most difficult part of going from playing essentially junior high-level teams to playing in the AAA?
In the fall of ‘77 we went 0-9 and that was pretty stressful. But the kids had a good attitude and they understood that we didn’t have many students, and we had more girls than boys at the school. We didn’t get too stressed out about winning or losing, it was always about hard work and sportsmanship and doing the right thing. But of course we tried to win when we could.
At what point did you feel like the team was improving?
When we played Harding Academy. Harding had won the state championships for five out of the last six years or so, and we were playing them on their home field. Our defense played them off their feet and we were even ahead starting the fourth quarter. Harding kicked a field goal with 42 seconds left in the game, and we lost 8-6 — but we were in the game.
Tell us about your first victory.
I think the first win we had after joining the AAA was at Wheatley. Doug Killgore has a ball that says CAC 27, Wheatley 6.
What is it like coming back and seeing where CAC and the football program are now?
It’s amazing. The buildings, the organization — it’s fantastic. It’s changed a lot, but it’s great to come back.