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Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Monday, January 7, 2013

By Sammy Batten

Pirates find another jewel in Havelock


By Sammy Batten
All rights reserved.

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A.J. Coplon is a mild-mannered, quiet teenager who you might not even notice strolling the halls at Havelock High School. But put Coplon on a football field and something changes.

"I'm pretty laid back in regular life,'' Coplon admits. "When I'm on the football field, I'm like a different person. I'm aggressive and physical and I like to make things happen.''

The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder brought those attributes and others the last two seasons in helping Havelock produce a 33-1 overall record and back-to-back state 3-A championships. The Rams earned a second straight state crown on December 1 by defeating Concord 55-21 in Winston-Salem at BB&T Field.

The defensive star of the state title game for Havelock was Coplon, who scored on a 61-yard fumble return to give his team a 28-21 lead, and later stripped a ball carrier and recovered a second fumble.

Those kind of performances were typical of Coplon as a senior and earned him All-Coastal 3-A Conference and New Bern Sun Journal All-Area honors along with a spot on the prestigious North Carolina Shrine Bowl squad. They're also why East Carolina extended Coplon a scholarship offer, which the cornerback-receiver-kick returner accepted back in late November.

"They (ECU) started talking to me during the summer,'' Coplon said. "They had to work their way in because I had a lot of good offers. But their coaches, I really liked them. They are really involved with the players. I waited a while after they offered to commit because I wanted to make sure I was comfortable. But after going over for a visit and talking with my family, I felt it was the right place for me.''

Coplon was being pursued by a number of schools and also had scholarship offers from Appalachian State, Charlotte and Coastal Carolina. But he chose to continue a Havelock tradition by sticking close to home to play for the Pirates.

Havelock has many long and deep connections to East Carolina and its football program. Head coach Jim Bob Bryant is an ECU graduate and ex-Rams like former offensive lineman Guy Whimper and current wide receiver Danny Webster have played for the Pirates through the years. Along with Coplon, Havelock offensive tackle Malcolm Ashley has also made a verbal commitment to ECU's recruiting Class of 2013.

There's also a connection to the Rams on the Pirates' current coaching staff. Director of football operations Cary Godette, a Havelock native, was a defensive star for ECU during the Pat Dye coaching era.

The Pirates have recruited Coplon to play cornerback, a position where both 2012 starters completed their eligibility last month in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. Both Leonard Paulk and Jacobi Jenkins were seniors, while backups Adonis Armstrong and Kris Sykes will be seniors next season. Those departures could open up some early opportunities for Coplon to earn playing time in Greenville.

"I think I can come in and compete for playing time next year,'' Coplon said. "When I went up there for a visit, they told me what they did and I studied their defense. They're losing some people and that should give me the chance to get on the field early.''

Coplon hasn't spent much time on the sidelines since getting his start in football while living in New Bern. He began playing Pop Warner football at age five and started out mainly as an offensive player.

"I didn't come from an athletic family, but we all love football,'' Coplon said. "They (family) signed me up and I've been playing ever since then. I was always pretty good. I played a lot on offense at running back, receiver and tight end. I didn't really start playing defense until I was in the ninth grade.''

After a move to Havelock with his mother, Coplon earned a spot on the junior varsity squad as a freshman, then moved to the varsity as a sophomore. But it wasn't until his junior year that Coplon asserted himself as a starter in the secondary for a team that went 16-0 and won the state title.

Coplon produced 35 tackles and led the Rams with five interceptions. He gained 174 in return yards on the interceptions and carried two back for touchdowns.

It was after that junior campaign that Coplon realized he might have an opportunity to play major college football.

"I started watching myself after games on video,'' Coplon said. "Our coaches recorded every game, so I took advantage and watched film every day. I saw myself improving and getting better every game. It made me start thinking, if I kept working hard, maybe I could get a scholarship.''

Havelock's only loss in 2012 came against eventual state 4-A champion and county rival New Bern by a 34-33 margin in the second game of the season. The Rams dominated every other team on their schedule with the defense limiting the remaining 15 opponents to a scoring average of 9.3 points.

Coplon, who has been timed at 4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash, was the star of that unit. He collected 42 tackles, intercepted seven passes and logged 219 in interception return yards. In a game against Jacksonville, Coplon had two interceptions, 142 return yards and a touchdown. Coplon also had a 23.1 average on punt returns, had 276 yards receiving and scored nine touchdowns between interception and punt returns, and receiving.

Coplon is one of three defensive backs who have made verbal commitments to ECU for the Class of 2013. He joined Xavier Smith of Raleigh's Wakefield High and Travon Simmons from Hillgrove High in Powder, GA. Smith is a safety and Simmons is a cornerback.

"I have a good feeling about the class we're putting together,'' Coplon said. "I've been following recruiting and they (ECU coaches) seem to be signing up some really good talent. I can't wait until we all get to Greenville and start winning games together.''

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01/07/2013 04:17:47 AM


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