January 11, 2010

Versatility, ability makes linebacker stand out

Flexibility may not be a requirement to get a scholarship from Tulane, but it has its advantages.

The blend of speed, size and power possessed by linebacker commitment Ray Oppman, provides an array of options for Tulane's coaches not only next fall, but also through the remainder of the 2010 recruitment period.

With just a few weeks left to lock down the final six spots in the upcoming class, needs exist at both the defensive end position and in the secondary (primarily safety) due to attrition and graduation.

Although Oppman is a life-long middle linebacker, he's willing to play anywhere to get on the field as soon as possible. And considering Tulane's recent track record of position changes, it wouldn't be stunning to see Opmman's skills put to work at a variety of places.

"I think I'm a pretty versatile player," Oppman said. "I think I can play wherever they need me to. I believe I have the speed for safety and I even have the size to play end if that's what they wanted.

"But I'm really comfortable at linebacker and I'm pretty sure that's where they see me. They haven't told me any differently."

However, when Shakiel Smith signed no one envisioned him starting at strong side linebacker. But he did.

Taylor Echols, who signed in 2008, moved from wide receiver to cornerback last offseason. He'll likely make another move to safety this spring.

Austen Jacks' career as a defensive end hasn't yet begun, since he filled in admirably as a middle linebacker (when David Kirksey got hurt) nabbing 25 tackles, two sacks and 2.5 tackles-for-loss.

Their examples aren't rare or unique, simply the reality of a program which is being built from the ground up. With Oppman's talent, and five other linebackers joining him in the 2010 class, Tulane will work to get the best skill on the field.

If it means lining up in a different position, so be it.

"I've been a middle linebacker since the fifth grade but I have done different things on the field," Oppman said. "I mean we've had formations where I've gotten down on the defensive line and played sort of as a pass rusher and I drop into a lot of pass coverage a lot so the secondary isn't really unfamiliar.

"It's about learning techniques, and I feel like I could make a switch if it was needed."

The 6-foot-2, 215 pounder just wants to get his name on the dotted line and officially become a part of the Green Wave. With the recruiting season coming down the stretch, Oppman has been hearing from coaching staffs far and wide, hoping to snag the Texas 5A, all-state honorable mention talent away from New Orleans.

As a speedster who finished with 106 tackles in 10 games, it's no surprise there's been a late rush on the Sugar Land product.

But Oppman insists it isn't an issue.

After taking an official visit to Tulane last month with a slew of fellow commitments, his already strong commitment became rock solid.

"It was really cool," Oppman said. "All the guys I met were great, and that includes the guys who are already on the team right now. My host (Kendrell Washington) was just a really cool and really funny guy and it made me feel like it's the place I want to be. It was a great weekend and a great experience for me."

Despite Big 12 and SEC schools working to get into the mix now, Oppman appears set to get through the first week of February without a change of heart and start his college career with the Green Wave, leaving the rest behind.

"I'm not really thinking about recruiting, as far as I'm concerned that's all pretty much done," Oppman said. "I'm just treating things like the offseason, working out, getting in the weight room and trying to keep in football shape at the top of my priorities so I can be ready.

"I've gotten some calls but for the most part I've been blocking it or just not calling people back. I really try and stay away from everyone else and just focus on Tulane."

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