Thursday, October 27, 2011
Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick a quick study
By Greg Biggins
ESPN Recruiting Nation
Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick wasn't exactly a child prodigy when it came to football, but the tight end from Rocklin (Calif.) Whitney was obviously a quick learner.
Cope Fitzpatrick, who didn't start playing football until the 8th grade and started as an offensive tackle, was presented his Under Armour All-America Game jersey on Wednesday. It was part of the 80-stop American Family Insurance presents the Under Armour All-America Game selection tour.
"I really had no clue how to play football," Cope-Fitzpatrick said. "I didn't understand the game and didn't really know what I was doing. It was still fun for me so I stuck with it and by the time I was a sophomore, I was already playing varsity and things just took off from there."
The athlete played defensive end his sophomore season and then added double duty by also playing tight end the last two games of the season. It didn't take long for Cope-Fitzpatrick to show he was a natural pass catcher with the size and athleticism to garner immediate recruiting attention.
"I picked up my first scholarship offer from Oregon State after my sophomore year," Cope-Fitzpatrick said. "There was a connection at Oregon State because they had a player, James Dockery, who played at my high school, which at the time was Palm Desert (Calif.) and he told the coaches about me. I never really had an idea how far I could go with football until I got that offer.
"It was always a dream of mine to play college football but I never thought my first offer would be from a Pac-10 school or that it would come so early. The spring and summer after my sophomore year, I started going to a bunch of different camps and my confidence really grew even more. I went online and read up on all these guys that was I going against that had offers from everywhere and I was killing them. That's when I knew I could play a the highest level."
Cope-Fitzpatrick's next offer came from UCLA after he attended the Bruins summer camp prior to his junior year and he nearly jumped on it.
"UCLA is a great school and I was shocked when they offered me," Cope-Fitzpatrick said. "Forget football, it's just a very prestigious school and I thought about committing on the spot. I decided to hold off and play things out and then during my junior season, everyone started offering, it was a great feeling. Last summer, I camped with USC and once they offered, I knew that's what I wanted and pulled the trigger on the spot.
"I always liked USC growing up and for the longest time, I didn't think they were going t offer. They were recruiting me but didn't offer me and I assumed they liked other guys more than me. I still decided to camp with them and I'm glad I did because that's how I ended up getting offered and now I'm going to my dream school."
Cope-Fitzpatrick transferred from Palm Desert Whitney before his junior season and Wildcats coach Mike Gimenez knew right away he had something special.
"Jalen is the total package, he's everything you want in a football player, on and off the field," Gimenez said. "He's a dominant player on both sides of the ball but the refreshing thing about him is how hard he works and he knows he's not all there yet. Some kids in his position think they're as good as they need be and don't need to work on their game but that's not Jalen.
"This past summer, we got together and talked about how he could improve himself as a player. The one area I mentioned was just being a better blocker, a more physical player. Well this season, Jalen is just killing people. There are plays on film where he's pancaking multiple guys on the same play. He's such a selfless kid and is a great teammate."
Cope-Fitzpatrick said he actually enjoys blocking, and added it's one of the many things he loves about the tight end position.
"Tight end fits my personality," Cope-Fitzpatrick said. "It's not a position that gets a lot of fanfare, it's more of a glue position. You need a clutch catch on third down, you use the tight end. You need a big block to get the running back outside, it's on the tight end. I love blocking, I like having the power to take a guy from point A and moving them to point B on the field or wherever I want them to go.
"Catching passes is great too but blocking is a crucial part of the game and I take pride in it. I want to be a complete tight end, not just a pass catcher and I think that's part of the reason I got invited to the Under Armour game, I can do everything a tight end needs to do."
Cope-Fitzpatrick said he's thrilled to head to Florida to take part in the UA Game, just as much for the experience as he is actually playing in the game.
"The game is almost secondary, I'm excited to just enjoy the experience of being with all these great players and practicing against them," Cope-Fitzpatrick said. "The first time I really heard about the UA Game, I was flipping channels and saw the skills challenge going on. I thought that looked really cool and I was hopeful one day, I would get the call to play in that game.
"This will be my first time playing on TV and I'm looking forward to that and excited to see who is coaching the teams this year. Last year I saw Mike Ditka and some other guys and it would be great to learn from them. I'm just excited about the opportunity and honored to represent my school and my community in such a big event."
Greg Biggins covers recruiting in the West region. He can be reached at Greg.Biggins@espn.com.