November 1, 2009

Linebacker ready to make plays immediately

For someone who hasn't seen Tulane play live this year, Ray Oppman certainly knows what's going on with the Green Wave.

That's because the Tulane linebacker commit is ready to make an impact next fall and he doesn't want to wait.

With two senior starters (David Kirksey and Travis Burks) and a converted safety (Shakiel Smith) clearing the top of the depth chart for next season, Oppman sees the opportunity in front of him at any of the three positions.

Although, he plays in the middle at Clements High School in Sugar Land, Texas, his speed and strength allow him to play on either side.

"I consider myself a pretty versatile linebacker so I feel like I could play at weak side or the strong side," Oppman said. "I can kind of play wherever they need me, if that's what it takes to get onto the field."

In eight games this season, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound linebacker racked up 84 tackles and 16 of those were for a loss. His play has helped push Clements into a do-or-die game next week to make the 5A Texas State playoffs.

Those impressive performances have grabbed the attention of more than just opposing high school coaches. Although publicly committed to Tulane, Oppman said he is still getting contacted by a number of college programs, including Kansas, Colorado and Stanford.

But Oppman said he made his decision to come to Tulane this summer and has informed everyone he's staying true to the pledge.

Weekly conversations with running backs coach Greg Davis and occasional chats with defensive coordinator Steve Stanard have helped keep him attached to the Green Wave and excited about making it to New Orleans next summer.

"I've just been telling everyone that I'm committed and that Tuane is the school for me," Oppman said. "It's been great being committed because I can focus on playing rather than dealing with coaches. And instead of focusing on piling up numbers, I just have to play well and do what's best for my team."

While he's tried to make trips to the Superdome for a Green Wave home game, Oppman has been tied up in Texas with previous obligations. However, he's been keeping an eye on the current season and will likely attend Tulane's game at Rice on Nov. 14.

Oppman even sees a bit of a silver lining in the Wave's struggles this season, recognizing Tulane will probably need him to make an immediate contribution and be a key cog in a long-awaited rebuilding process to rejuvenate the program.

Bob Toledo and his staff set the precedent this season that age and experience aren't key factors to receiving snaps. Tulane has played 18 freshmen this season, the most in the country.

That's the kind of stat Oppman likes to hear.

"My decision was really about education and playing time," Oppman said. "Those were the two big factors. I can see myself getting on the field a lot as a freshman and contributing and that's really exciting.

"Obviously it is going to take a lot of work on my end in both the offseason here and in the summer when I get to Tulane, but I believe I am ready for it."

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