LOUISVILLE — As a nickname, "Honey Mustard" doesn't have the same ring to it as "Honey Badger."
Damian Copeland's Louisville teammates say the moniker is their way of saying they like the wide receiver's style. But what they like even more: Copeland is contributing for the No. 19 Cardinals.
Injuries were a problem before this season and limited the junior with the blond mohawk to just eight games — including only one last year — and 113 yards.
Copeland enters Saturday's home game against North Carolina tied for the team lead with eight receptions and his 92 yards are just two behind leader Andrell Smith. While quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has involved everybody in Louisville's passing game, Copeland's inclusion demonstrates the Cardinals' trust in his health and ability.
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And with a hairdo similar to former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, Copeland's also showing a willingness to stand out — off the field.
"I had a mohawk last year and it was black, but after the (Belk) bowl game I just decided to do something with it," the 6-foot-1, 188-pound Copeland said. "People like it. They call me 'Honey Badger,' 'Badger Milk,' 'Honey Mustard.' ..."
Copeland's first reception this season drew the kind of attention he wanted on the field. With U of L facing third down from its 2 on the opening drive against Kentucky, he made a diving grab of Bridgewater's low pass near the right sideline for a 23-yard gain that jump-started the Cardinals' offense. Louisville went on to complete a 99-yard drive and a few more in a 32-14 victory, with Copeland catching a career-high four passes for 51 yards.
He added four more catches for 41 yards in last week's 35-7 victory over Missouri State, and expects to see plenty of time against North Carolina though he's listed behind redshirt freshman Charles Gaines at the "Z" receiver spot.
"He's one of those guys (that has been) in the shadows," Bridgewater said. "He's been nicked with injuries in his past, but now that he's healthy he's showing that he's not taking a step back."
What bothered Copeland most was how his injuries came during practice. Copeland was redshirted as a freshman after a knee injury, followed the next spring by a foot injury. Another knee injury followed last year's game against North Carolina — his only game of the season — leading Copeland to reassess everything. His injuries' freakish nature told him he had to be in better shape physically, if not mentally.
"It had me down a little bit, but I kept a smile on my face and kept grinding," the Bradenton, Fla., native said. "I was hungry. I never had an injury in high school and never sat out, so that just made me hungry. ... I'm just doing the little things and staying healthy."
Coincidentally, a season-ending knee injury to 2011 receiving yardage leader Michaelee Harris opened the door for Copeland. Known for his speed, he began showing it and improved durability in spring practice. Laying out for that first catch symbolized Copeland's all-in approach.
"What you saw (against Kentucky) was what type of spring he had," Cardinals offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "He has started delivering plays and the plays he had on film just weren't the routine catches, he started making explosive plays."