COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — There were times during Missouri's 62-10 win over Southeastern Louisiana when offensive lineman Max Copeland had to collect himself and keep a promise he made to his dad.
"I'm here, man, I'm here," Copeland said he remembered thinking as he looked around at more than 62,000 fans in Memorial Stadium on Saturday. His father, Michael, made Max promise to take a little joy in how far he'd come.
A native of Billings, Mont., Copeland spent three years with Missouri as a walk-on before earning a scholarship two weeks before the season. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound right guard then made his first start Saturday after senior Jack Meiners sprained a knee.
For Copeland, a redshirt junior with wiry blond hair and a passion for rock 'n' roll, starting for his father's alma mater was a long time coming.
"There's been something about watching Mizzou games since before I remember, there was a decision made, I'm going to be one of them," Copeland said. "I'm supposed to be one of them. ... This is a calling. I've been summoned."
Copeland's coaches awarded him the highest grade, 92, of any offensive lineman in the game. Co-offensive line coach Josh Henson said it's satisfying to see players absorb instruction and raise their level of play, adding that attention to fundamental techniques is as important on the offensive line as anywhere else on the team, if not more so.
Missouri's offensive line allowed only one sack Saturday, though the competition will be much more challenging this Saturday when No. 7 Georgia visits Missouri in the Tigers' first game against a fellow Southeastern Conference opponent — and one packing a rugged defense.
Copeland is ready.
"I'm not too smart and not too good-looking, but intensity is something I consider a strong suit," said Copeland, a physics major.
Evan Boehm, the first true freshman to start on the offensive line under coach Gary Pinkel in his 12th season at Missouri, thanked Copeland for pumping him and others up on the line. A 6-3, 310-pounder, Boehm got the nod after senior Travis Ruth had surgery to repair a torn left triceps tendon.
Boehm wants to improve each week. He'll be looking to his "big brothers" Elvis Fisher and Justin Britt for guidance with the Bulldogs coming in.
During the summer, Boehm would watch film with Britt, a junior starting at right tackle. Then, during fall camp, Boehm would talk football and family with Fisher, a sixth-year Tiger starting at left tackle.
"It's just like we knew each other for five or six years, but we'd just met each other," the freshman said.
Even though Copeland deadpans that he's been here "since Clinton was in office," Fisher says he's learning from what the new starters bring to the table.
"A guy like Max, it kind of makes you put it in perspective," Fisher said. "Guys who come in on scholarship, maybe two-a-days is a drag. For someone who comes in as a walk-on, to have that great of an attitude and to earn a scholarship, earn a starting spot, it makes you really appreciative."
The diverse group, including sophomore Mitch Morse at center, realizes the challenges facing Missouri as it prepares to face its first SEC opponent. But that won't stop the good times from rolling.
"You get guys from all different sorts of backgrounds and parts of the country, and you get together for a common goal, it's learning," Copeland said. "You learn from each other. It's a wonderful experience and at the end of the day, that's why we do it."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.