Jacob Copeland and his lengthy recruiting saga came to an end at Escambia High on Wednesday's National Signing Day, when he announced live on ESPN2 that he'll play for Florida, picking the Gators and coach Dan Mullen over Alabama and Tennessee.
Copeland's decision triggered an emotional moment on national television by his mother, Betty Copeland, who was decked out in Alabama gear. Seated to his right, she walked out of the announcement after her son put on a Florida hat.
Copeland's mother eventually came back and embraced her son as he was speaking — while battling his emotions — to a packed Escambia gym.
"It was a really tough decision for me because I built up great relationships with the coaches at Alabama, Tennessee and Florida," Copeland said. "My mom got along with the coaches, too, and built good relationships. Even though she wanted something opposite of me, it felt good knowing that she would support me in the end ... no matter what.
"I had to let her know that I'm gonna be a grown man now. I won't be able to come home to her whenever I want. It was a business decision."
Copeland, wearing a red sport coat and bow tie, had 32 offers leading into National Signing Day, but stated that his decision would come down to the three schools in December after decommitting from Florida in November. The 6-foot-1, 191-pound wide receiver is ranked the No. 5 receiver in the nation according to ESPN and is No. 40 on the ESPN 300 list.
He said that Tuesday morning, after praying the night before and that morning, he felt that he had made up his mind and would sign with Florida.
"My head was telling me Alabama, but my heart and God was telling me Florida," Copeland said. "Coach Mullen made me a priority. Knowing that he did that was a big thing for me.
"He told me if I keep putting in the work I can make an immediate impact next year. I feel home and welcome around there. The players and everything around there ... it feels like they are building a dynasty and I thought that was the best thing for me."
The Pensacola News Journal Offensive Player of the Year and PNJ Super Senior led Escambia with 45 catches for 1,010 yards and 10 touchdowns. He returned 10 punts for 333 yards and four touchdowns.
"It was crazy with ESPN being there, that was the first time I had a kid sign on ESPN," said Escambia coach Mike Bennett. "I had no idea where he would decide to go. My advice to him last night was to have a great night. He had some great institutions to chose from and he couldn't go wrong either way.
"After he signed, it's all about him finishing strong. All of the hoopla is gone. It's time to get back in the weight room and time to hit the books hard. I'm happy for him. Florida is a great institution and to my knowledge, that's been one of his favorite teams all his life."
Five other Escambia HIgh athletes signed Wednesday, and two of them will continue to be teammates at the next level.
Escambia defensive lineman Daishon Folsom and running back Ray Samuel both signed to Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College.
Defensive back Chris McCray signed with Glenville State University.
Two-sport athlete Dominic Miller was a standout defensive end for Escambia and signed with Pensacola State College to play baseball.
Miller finished last season with a .439 batting average for Escambia.
Brian Achatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8521.