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Thursday, July 07, 2022

Florida football’s new defensive lineman and new No. 1 speak Wednesday

Jacob Copeland and Antonio Valentino talk responsibility, the SEC and Gervon Dexter’s potential

Jacob Copeland against UT Martin on Sept. 7, 2019. Copeland will be the latest Gator to wear No. 1 next season.
Jacob Copeland against UT Martin on Sept. 7, 2019. Copeland will be the latest Gator to wear No. 1 next season.

The No. 1 jersey carries extra weight on each Florida football player who bears its colors. NFL Pro Bowlers like wide receiver Percy Harvin and defensive backs Reggie Nelson and Janoris Jenkins sported the uniform this century, as did 2020 first-round pick CJ Henderson and 2021 first-round pick Kadarius Toney. 

Now, it’s redshirt junior wide receiver Jacob Copeland’s turn with the hallowed digit. Copeland said Wednesday it is quite a privilege to sport No. 1 and head coach Dan Mullen emphasized its legacy and the responsibilities it came with.

The Pensacola, Florida, product added that the new responsibility changed him for the better as he works with the younger receivers on the roster.

“(I’m) making sure all my younger receivers stand up, stay tall with everything going on, make sure they keep their head in the game and develop as time comes,” Copeland said.

New Florida defensive tackle Antonio Valentino also spoke with the media Wednesday, and the Penn State transfer gave his first impression of SEC football.

“All SEC bias and everything that they talk about in this conference is 100% accurate,” Shelton said. “It’s 110% accurate, and I haven’t even played an SEC game yet.”

Shelton highlighted the structure of the practice, specifically defensively, where he said teams can play multiple fronts in a single series.

The Ohio native spent his first five seasons with the Nittany Lions. He said he spent about a day in the transfer portal before he received a call from an unknown phone number with a 352 area code who turned out to be UF defensive line coach David Turner. After he spoke with Turner and looked into the Florida program, Valentino said the decision became easy.

“I told him (coach Mullen) on the phone, I said ‘Coach, if you told me I got a spot and you got a scholarship for me, I’m coming,’” Valentino said. “He was like, ‘Well, I got one for you,’ and I was like ‘Alright, I’ll see you in a couple weeks then.’”

Valentino also highlighted the performance of one of his teammates, sophomore Gervon Dexter, effusing praise for the former five-star prospect.

“Gervon Dexter is going to be a problem,” Valentino said. “Once he figures everything out and he really knows how to play football...it’s over with. It’s over with. Somebody is going to pay Gervon Dexter millions of dollars to play football someday.”

Turner, who also spoke to the media Wednesday, spoke about  Dexter and his potential. He  highlighted that Dexter hasn’t played football nearly as long as some of his teammates, having picked up the game just three years ago.

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“He’s still relatively new to the game, so things are happening that have never happened to him before on the field,” Turner said. “The good thing about him is he’s going to always ask questions, he wants to be good and that’s how he’s had to learn.”

Turner said Dexter is still working on his pad level and discipline, but he has grown stronger in the weight room. Older players like Valentino, Zachary Carter and Kyree Campbell last season gave him extra mentors to question and absorb more information from.

“He’s going to be a good player,” Turner said. “He really wants to be a great player, but you’ve got to be good before you can be great.”

Contact Ryan Haley at rhaley@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ryan_dhaley.

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Ryan Haley

Ryan Haley is a second-year journalism major with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.


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