Coppage stands tallest

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Royal Purple 2010-11 Male Athlete of the Year

It’s Game Day and Levell Coppage’s eyes are closed. He’s lying down and visualizing what will occur on the football field that day.

For two straight years, Levell Coppage has shredded the Mount Union defense in the Stagg Bowl, leading the ’Hawks to two straight national titles. He was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player both years as the team has racked up a 30-game winning streak. Photo by Andrew Smith

He sees himself making hard cuts and breaking loose from defenders trying to take him down. He sees himself bursting through a gaping hole into the open field for a touchdown.

“I’m a visual-type player,” Coppage said. “I like to picture things before I go out and do it.”

The game begins and he does exactly what he visualizes.

Exhibit A: It was the fourth quarter in UW-Whitewater’s second-round playoff game against Trine University at Perkins Stadium, and the Warhawks had the ball on the Trine 9-yard line clinging to a 38-31 edge.

To this point, Coppage had already carried the team on his back scoring two touchdowns and was well on his way to his 300-yard outburst.

After quarterback Lee Brekke handed the ball off to Coppage, the 5-foot-8, 180-pound junior was immediately drilled by a defender blitzing from the outside.

But Coppage did not fall to the ground. He effortlessly swatted him away, made a cut and shrugged off five more defenders before bulldozing his way into the end zone.

“I just find it hard that someone is going to take me down,” Coppage said. “I refuse to get taken down by one person. That’s the thing about a great back is there should never be one guy that can take you down.”

On that play no one took him down – just as he had visualized.

Exhibit B: The 2010 national championship game in Salem, Va., where Coppage has made the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl his personal playground over the last two years.

Coppage began the title game the same way he began and ended the 2009 title game: With a touchdown.

On his first score, Coppage found some separation and exploded up the middle for a 54-yard score making an opening statement.

 “He’s got a tremendous ability in terms of his quickness in the hole,” offensive coordinator Steve Dinkel said. “It’s hard for a defender to get a solid, squared up hit on him. That’s one of the characteristics of his running style.”

After Mount Union rallied to score three touchdowns in a 3:56 span in the second quarter taking a 21-10 lead, Coppage restored order with another touchdown.

The ’Hawks held a slim 24-21 advantage the entire third and much of the fourth quarter until Coppage decided to change that. With 2:34 remaining, Coppage left defenders in the dust for a 75-yard touchdown clinching the team’s second straight championship – just as he visualized.

“This team looks at me to lead the way,” Coppage said. “That’s the kind of player I am. I like to put it all on my shoulders. No matter how much pressure there is, I know at the end of the day I can do what needs to be done.”

He said this was the case in the Stagg Bowl.

“I had to do everything in my capability to get this game,” Coppage said. “There was a lot of inexperience with [Brekke on] that stage and spotlight. And I didn’t want the pressure on him. I wanted to make sure it was all on my hands.”

That final run gave him 299 yards, a Stagg Bowl record.

For the second straight year, Coppage was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player.

These performances helped Coppage earn the 2010-11 Royal Purple Male Athlete of the Year.

Hungry to Succeed

Dominating on the biggest stage was something the Oak Park, Ill., native always envisioned for himself prior to his freshman season.

That season just happened to be the first year without All-American running back Justin Beaver, who has the most rushing yards in UW-Whitewater history.

During the 2008 spring practices, before Coppage arrived on campus, there were three running backs (dubbed as the three-headed monster) returning on the depth chart thought to be Beaver’s replacement.

After fall camp ended, however, none of those three would get the job.

The job went to Coppage, a wide-eyed freshman.

“Knowing the shoes I had to fill, I knew that hey, ‘I can do this too,’” Coppage said. “I knew what I wanted to do and knew the things that I was capable of. When I was coming in for the first game, they had on the Jumbotron the three-headed monster. It’s kind of funny that I had no part in that.”

Exceptional Stretch

But he has played a major part in the team’s success since then.

This past season, Coppage amassed the 100-yard mark in 13 of 14 games.

One year after recording a school record 35 touchdowns, he followed that with 25 in 2010 giving him 81 in just three years. Beaver is second on the career touchdown list with 44.

He also earned WIAC Player of the Year honors after reaching the 2,000-yard plateau once again and earned All-American recognition for the third straight year.

“The consistency Levell played with the last two seasons is really remarkable,” head coach Lance Leipold said. “He’s very instinctive. He has excellent quickness, [and] his ability, his vision to see things and pick things up make him a very talented weapon.”

Despite all the individual accolades, he credits the others around him when asked how he put together such an impressive season.

“With great lineman,” Coppage said. “Since Day 1, I had to take advantage of them. Any players Dinkel has, he’s going to turn them into something special. With the linemen he’s been coaching, it makes it easy for me to do what I have to do.”

What Coppage also wants to do is to continue playing football after college and said he has dreams of getting drafted next year.

With that goal as well as achieving a third straight national championship, Coppage’s vision is simple.

“I refuse to lose,” he said. “I just want to be the best.”

He opens his eyes and he realizes his vision is coming true.