Matt Oplinger can play anywhere on a football field and thrive. And when he did this year, so did Delbarton.
Green Wave coach Brian Bowers knows.
“I don’t think you’ll find many players who bring as much to the table like he does,” Bowers said.
Delbarton sailed through the rugged NJAC-National and often relied on Oplinger’s versatility. He is the 2013 All Daily Record Football Player of the Year.
The Green Wave finished 10-2 overall and outscored their opposition, 356-124. Most of their games were blowouts. When the games were still competitive, it was Oplinger who helped break the game open.
“He never leaves the field, never takes a break,” Bowers said.
When Delbarton needed a big play on defense, Oplinger was up to the task as a safety. He had 47 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and two INTs.
That’s not all. The tight end caught 34 passes for 674 yards (19.8) and scored nine touchdowns and blocked exceptionally well out of the tight end slot. He also leveled his share of would-be tacklers.
When Bowers needed someone in the backfield in a playoff loss to Pope John, Oplinger replaced injured teammate Rob Arancio and scored a touchdown.
Punt? Oplinger punted 14 times for a 39.1-yard average.Rugbypunt? He did that too, running for three first downs this year on fakes.
“I love the sport,” Oplinger said, “and everything about it.”
Everything. Oplinger gave a verbal commitment to play football at Yale. Spend five minutes with him and you’ll see that the Ivy League school is a perfect fit. Not only is he a top-notch all-around player, he sounds like one.
If there is a player-coach in Morris County, it is Matt Oplinger.
“I am very much intrigued by the strategy in the sport,” he said. “I’ve thought about it a lot. Coach (assistant coach Mike) Beach and I are always talking about offenses and defenses. He’s given me books about it. If I didn’t like the game so much, it would be so much harder. But it’s so much fun, making checks and having conversations with the coaches.”
Oplinger loves combining the mental strategies with the hitting.
“I love breaking things down and then hitting someone,” he said. “Defense is more about thinking and reacting and getting amped up. I love scoring touchdowns, but I love what goes into defense.”
“He is very smart,” Bowers said. “He studies the game. He’ll check formations for us and I cannot remember him ever blowing a check.”
Oplinger has had a chance to watch plays unfold from all different angles.
He started playing youth football as a gangly fifth-grader while growing up in Summit. Oplinger soon found himself battling the 150-pound weight restriction and left the sport as a sixth-grader before returning during middle school.
He recalled being an option quarterback as an eighth-grader and chose to attend Delbarton, where he was moved to receiver and then tight end. On defense, he has played cornerback, outside linebacker, defensive end — pretty much all over the place. Wherever he was placed, he strove to get better.
“He is such a competitor,” Bowers said. “He wants to practice. He wants to be great.”
Bowers has watched Oplinger’s growth first hand. He attended the school’s football camp as an eighth-grader and was a “good-not-great freshman player,” Bowers recalled.
Oplinger didn’t begin making his way up the depth chart until the middle of his sophomore year, when Bowers put the kid on special teams. By the time Oplinger was a junior, Bowers liked him enough to put him on the field more. In his junior year, he started on defense and began getting on the field on offense.
“He made keeping him off the field very difficult,” Bowers said.
Yale might find itself in the same situation. He was also recruited by Boston College and Rutgers.
“Colleges came by and loved the way he played,” Bowers said. “He is an explosive athlete and a really good player. Colleges love him, but they just don’t know where to play him. I think he could play early and make an impact, I really do. I always thought he had the ability to play at a D-1 level. He is ready to take it to the next level.
“He is a competitive kid,” Bowers said. “We value kids like that. He has a great work ethic and loves competing against other people in anything. He is a big-time lacrosse player. He joined winter track and helped the team. You should hear him talk about how good a bowler he is. He can just do so many things.”
Nowhere is that more obvious than on a football field.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” he said. “Anything I can do to help the team win.”