Coppage’s record-setting collegiate career heads to an end

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011
— Running back Levell Coppage has the ingredients of a winner—heart and attitude.

Since arriving at UW-Whitewater in 2008 from Oak Park High School in Illinois, Coppage has torched the opposition with speed and guile, burning his name into the Division III and UW-Whitewater football record books.

“It’s been an amazing four years,” said Coppage, the two-time WIAC player of the year and recent two-time AFCA All-America pick. “It’s just so exciting going out this way.’’

The No. 1-ranked Warhawks (14-0) defend their Division III national title against the No. 2-ranked Mount Union Purple Raiders (14-0) at 6:05 p.m. Friday in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl. It is a record seventh straight meeting for the national title between the two schools.

It’s Coppage’s fourth national championship game and his last chance to run wild in a Warhawk uniform. He’s hoping to repeat last season’s performance that led Whitewater to its second straight national title, a 31-21 victory over Mount Union in Salem, Va.

Coppage gained 299 yards and scored three touchdowns on runs of 54, 11, and 75 yards. The 75-yard run gave Coppage a Stagg Bowl record for individual rushing yardage, accomplished in 39 carries.

Coppage sat out his entire senior year at Oak Park with an injury. He came to Whitewater determined to make up for lost time and prove his worth.

“I had a breakout junior year, and then I missed my senior year, and that was unfortunate,” Coppage said of his high school career. “I missed the game. I came (to Whitewater) to work hard and to be an asset to the team.’’

Coach Lance Leipold had to replace Justin Beaver, a Gagliardi Trophy winner who had set all of Whitewater’s rushing records.

“Justin Beaver graduated in 2007, and in 2008, in comes Levell,” Leipold said. “Boy, he made an impact.’’

As a freshman, Coppage gained 1,461 yards on 298 carries and scored 21 touchdowns.

Leipold said Coppage was a quick study in the Whitewater offense.

“Talent is one thing, but you have to work,” Leipold said. “The way (Coppage) picked things up and understood the offense, he was excellent.’’

Coppage had the talent and smarts, and he also had the work ethic.

“It’s a grind,” Coppage said of the football season. “From Day 1 in camp, it’s a constant grind and a long season.’’

At 5 foot, 9 inches and 180 pounds, Coppage has been a record-setting force.

Coppage became the first back in UW-Whitewater and Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference history to rush for 2,000-plus yards in three seasons and the first to compile four 1,000-plus seasons.

Against UW-Stevens Point on Oct. 29, Coppage gained 245 yards on 29 carries to replace Beaver as the school and conference career-rushing leader with 6,776 yards. Coppage enters the Stagg Bowl with 7,704 career yards after gaining 2,029 this season.

Coppage also holds Whitewater records for career touchdowns (108), career rushing attempts (1,292) and single-season touchdowns (35 in 2009).

Add in that Coppage returned punts for the first time this season and earned conference special teams player of the week honors after returning five punts for 112 yards, including 37- and 42-yard returns in a 17-3 victory over La Crosse.

Coppage does it all, but he said none of it would have happened without teamwork.

“It just begins with the team,” said Coppage, who gave credit to his linemen and coaches. “It’s a team effort. It isn’t just me. It’s the other guys on the field, too.’’

With one game remaining in his career, Coppage is not getting sentimental, at least not yet.

“I’m not done yet,” Coppage said. “We still have a game to play and team goals.’’

Likewise, Leipold isn’t busting out a hanky to mop up tears for Coppage’s last hurrah. Like Coppage, Leipold said sentiment can wait.

“It’s better to answer that question in spring and next August,” Leipold said. “There will be seniors that will be missed, not just Levell.’’

Coppage wants a shot at professional football.

“I’ve always seen myself playing football,” Coppage said. “It was dream as a kid, and now I live in the reality. I just have to be able to put myself in the situation after this season and put in the hard work.’’

Playing four years of record-making winning football has had an effect on Coppage.

“I became a man,” Coppage said. “I had to go out and live in real life situations. I had to go to late meetings and early morning practices. I had to do things that prepare you for life.’’

Last updated: 7:07 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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