Illinois St. running back thriving despite offseason arrest

(STATS) - Marshaun Coprich's smile is so wide it could house a football. He's charismatic and speaks eloquently with such a genuine tone that if he told you he invented the game, you'd stop and think for a second before realizing he's just 21 years old.

His name is littered throughout the Illinois State record book, rewriting Redbird history with each carry that vaults him closer to another personal accomplishment.

It's one of the reasons coach Brock Spack trusts his All-American with a workload not bestowed upon many. Coprich leads active FCS players in offensive touches since 2012 and set school records with 2,274 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns while helping guide Illinois State to the national championship game last season.

The runner-up finish and record-breaking campaign gave credence to a 5-foot-9 running back becoming the big man on campus. Coprich came all the way from Victorville, California - roughly 85 miles northeast of Los Angeles - to carve a place for himself in Illinois State's football history, and has done so while giving equal credit to his teammates and coaching staff.

But despite the accolades, attention and praise, Coprich had to earn back the trust it took him three years to gain. His arrest on April 16 for selling a small amount of marijuana to an undercover police officer humbled him and wiped away that infectious smile.

Coprich pleaded guilty May 22 to drug charges that would erase a felony conviction should he successfully complete community service and two years of probation. Spack reinstated Coprich after initially suspending him, then later stripped his captaincy.

Coprich stood before the media following his latest court hearing and delivered a prepared statement in an apologetic, somber tone.

"It made me learn from my mistakes and made me realize that not only do my actions affect me, they also affect my team and my teammates," Coprich said. "I've learned from it and I've already forgotten about it."

That's a mature way of going about a difficult situation instead of letting it spiral out of control. Coprich accepted his punishments both legally and from Spack, who also reduced his scholarship. That means Coprich is paying part of his own way to play his final collegiate season.

"He hasn't made excuses, and he's done what everyone has asked him to do and then some," Spack said. "He's grown up and we've moved on."

Spack didn't expect anything less from his star, who did something the day after Christmas 2014 that few college kids can boast - he got married. Coprich and his junior high school sweetheart, Christasha, wedded in a small ceremony over the holiday break, something that wasn't planned when they headed back to Victorville.

Christasha has been in Illinois with Coprich since the start of his junior year.

"It feels good. We've been together six years and it's been great," Coprich said. "I've definitely got different responsibilities than (my teammates)."

They all share the same goals on the field, though. The fourth-ranked Redbirds (2-1) open play in the loaded Missouri Valley Conference on Saturday at home against No. 7 Northern Iowa, which Coprich torched for 166 yards and three touchdowns in November and 148 and another score in the second round of last year's FCS playoffs.

Coprich is coming off a 178-yard, two-TD effort in a 34-31 overtime win at Eastern Illinois on Sept. 19. His 41 career touchdowns are a school record, a mark set as he scored three times in a win over Morgan State the previous week while amassing 130 yards on just 20 carries.

He heads into Saturday's showdown with the Panthers needing 134 yards to break Toby Davis' Illinois State rushing record set from 1988-92. If Coprich does it, it would be his 21st career 100-yard performance - also a school record.

"I don't focus on breaking records," Coprich said. "If I'm going to break them, I'm going to break them. Being so close with the offensive line, my quarterback, all the components we have as an offense, I (know we can) get it done.

"I'm going to appreciate it once I have it, but for now it's about just working toward getting it and helping the team be successful."

The record appears inevitable, especially since Spack plans to continue feeding his workhorse. He praises Coprich for his dedication in the weight room to bulk up his smaller frame to a rock-solid 205 pounds.

"He's a competitor," Spack said. "He really likes the ball in his hands, and he doesn't really complain when he doesn't get it, but you can see it in his eyes and he'll whisper, 'Hey, give me the ball.'

"He's just one of those guys who loves having the game in his hands, and we like putting it there when we can."

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