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Sports

West Shamokin sophomore craves first victory

| Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010

During an interview — his first — on Monday, Blake Copenhaver did his best to hide his nervousness. Even when his voice quavered a bit or his foot tapped the floor, the West Shamokin sophomore spoke calmly and avoided the 'ums' and 'uhs' that pepper the responses of so many young athletes when they talk to a reporter.

Forgive Copenhaver for his slight uneasiness with being in the public spotlight, and understand that he dealt with it better than most sophomores. The two-way starter is still growing, still maturing. But he is not overwhelmed by what has been asked of him.

Through six weeks, Copenhaver led the team in tackles (26 solo, 12 assisted) and was second in rushing (49 carries for 122 yards). He also had one of West Shamokin's two sacks and a team-high three fumble recoveries.

Yet the sophomore assessed his second year as a two-way starter in less than glowing terms.

"I thought I was going do better than what I'm doing," he said.

Copenhaver expected to excel when he joined the varsity squad and started at linebacker and running back as a freshman. He had done well in junior high, and the difficulty of playing against juniors and seniors did not register with him until the 2009 season began.

His realization was a rude awakening. In the season opener at Burrell during West Shamokin's first possession, a Burrell player intercepted a pass and began to head for the Wolves' end zone. Copenhaver pursued the ball carrier and, for a moment, lost track of the other 10 Buccaneers on the field.

"And I got cleaned," he said. "I just got, like, ear-holed real bad."

He persisted. At season's end, he was named to the All-Allegheny Conference honorable mention team on both offense and defense.

His mission in the offseason was clear: try to closer resemble those older boys. Copenhaver, who stands 5-foot-9, increased his weight from 165 to 175. His maximum bench press went from 160 pounds to 190, and his squat maximum jumped from 290 to 375.

Copenhaver, now an inside linebacker and fullback, hasn't been pushed around as much this season. He hasn't suffered any blindside hits, and he has delivered a few punishing blows. That's all well and good, he said, but he wants more.

First, there is the win, the one that will break West Shamokin's losing streak, which stands at 31 games.

"I'd love to do it now," he said. "I mean, it frustrates me for the seniors. They still work all the time, and they can't get a win for their senior year. ... You ask, 'why can't it happen• What are we doing wrong?' "

Then there are smaller goals, such as finishing every tackle and finding the end zone. Copenhaver came close to the latter goal last week at Ford City. West Shamokin, trailing 48-0, had the ball at Ford City's 1-yard line with just a few seconds to spare. Copenhaver took the handoff, but he was stopped short. Time expired, and the Wolves accepted their third straight shutout loss.

"I've never seen anybody more depressed in my life about that," junior lineman Dan Croyle said of Copenhaver. "I felt like complete crap that I couldn't help my teammate get it in there because that would be his first varsity touchdown."

That score will come soon enough, Croyle and West Shamokin head coach Josh Gilliland believe. Gilliland foresees a busy and better future for the fullback, who belongs to a large and talented group of sophomore two-way starters. Copenhaver, much like his classmates, must grow a bit more and develop more speed, the coach said, but, for now, the sophomore manages to hide his weaknesses and use his strengths well enough to deserve any positive attention he earns.

"Blake's a hard-nosed kid," Gilliland said. "I think Blake would have a shot at playing as a sophomore in places with more of a junior-senior heavy group. Offensively, he runs low, runs hard. He doesn't quit. Defensively, there's times where you can see he's still a sophomore. But he hustles all the time."

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