There’s no question that LSU fullback J.C. Copeland’s favorite pastime involves inflicting pain.
The 6-foot, 270-pound behemoth has been likened to a freight train or an 18-wheeler rumbling down the field on the way to delivering some of the most vicious hits in the country.
Despite his frightening reputation, 10-year-old Macy Jeter sees only one thing in the fullback — a jungle gym.
Macy Jeter first met Copeland when her father and Copeland’s high school football coach, Bubba Jeter, brought him home one night because he had nowhere else to stay.
Copeland was not your average high school student.
Many might have been able to deduce as much just by looking at the imposing frame of the football star, but the differences went beyond his strength and talent.
Copeland’s mother, Sonya, struggled to make ends meet. As the only man in a family with three sisters, he took it upon himself to provide whatever relief he could.
He moved out of the house in high school so his mother could focus solely on his sisters.
“My momma was trying to support all of us but she couldn’t really get a good job, so she moved,” Copeland said.
Copeland was bearing responsibilities rather atypical for a 16-year-old student at Troup County High School in Lorange, Ga. He stayed with different members of the coaching staff each night.
Not knowing where he would sleep on a given night magnified even the simplest of tasks.
“One day I needed some money to pay for my cell phone bill so I asked coach if I could wash his truck to pay for it,” Copeland said. “He told me, ‘You don’t have to worry about it, I’ll just give it to you. You ever need anything, I told you I’d take care of you.’”
Bubba Jeter was true to his word, as he eventually opened his home to Copeland and the bruiser started staying with the family on the weekends.
Despite living in a house full of women and receiving skepticism from his friends, Bubba Jeter had no reservations about letting Copeland stay.
“My dad was like, ‘He’s a good guy, very strong and very determined and he needed a place to stay,’” said Mallory Jeter, Bubba’s middle daughter. “He could’ve found a friend or something, but we loved him.”
Mallory Jeter said the setup was weird at first. The family didn’t know Copeland and had the same rational worry anyone might with a stranger staying in their home.
Except for Macy Jeter, that is.
Macy was fascinated with the visitor, and was excited to have someone new willing to watch Spongebob with her, Copeland said.
“I had a little sister who treated him like a jungle gym,” Mallory Jeter said. “It was a new thing in her house and she was so excited.”
Copeland continued to stay with the family on weekends, and their bond grew stronger. Eventually, the Jeter household didn’t feel right without their special visitor occupying the bedroom in the basement.
It was a natural fit. Copeland blended right in with the Jeters and before long, he was no longer a visitor — just a son and a brother.
Copeland said he was in awe at how accepting the family was to him. They didn’t see any differences and took him in as one of their own.
“It’s just amazing because they don’t see color or anything,” Copeland said. “Some people might say you’re family, but with them, I know I’m family.”
With the Jeters offering a stabilizing force in Copeland’s life, he no longer had to worry about where he would spend his evenings.
Still, Copeland couldn’t help but think about his biological mother and the struggles she and his sisters were facing.
“Just being able to keep my head on straight without worrying about my mom and family was kind of hard,” Copeland said. “In the back of my mind I’m thinking, ‘Hey, I’m blessed and I have all these nice things but there’s no way my family is eating like me.’”
As Copeland progressed as an athlete, he realized his talents in football might be a way for him to provide for his family in the way the Jeters provided for him. And when it came time to make a decision on college football, Bubba Jeter was there for him again.
Though Bubba Jeter was a Georgia graduate, Copeland knew he could attend wherever he felt the most comfortable. So, he eventually turned a family that cheered for red and black to the most devoted of Tiger fans.
“... I fell in love with the football team and the atmosphere,” Mallory Jeter said.
After experiencing the Baton Rouge campus and all it had to offer, Mallory Jeter said the choice was easy for her to follow her brother to LSU.
Macy Jeter has given what some might call a “verbal commitment” to the purple and gold as well.
Copeland will continue to smash the helmets of Southeastern Conference linebackers throughout the fall and perpetuate his reputation as an intimidating force on the field, but the reasoning for this motivation is not nearly as scary.
He simply wants to pay forward the love and support he felt from the Jeter family to his own family one day.
“They’re the reason why I play,” Copeland said. “Knowing that this game can give me and my family a place to stay and a big house and to be able to provide for them and sacrifice the way they did for me is an amazing thing.”
What Copeland might not realize is just how much he gave to the Jeter family himself.
“It might be dangerous to let a stranger live in your house, but not really,” Mallory Jeter said. “He’s my protector.”