Matt Oplinger arrived in the Valley last month and got himself a double indoctrination; day one in the NFL and day one in the Arizona heat.
“The first day I got here I threw up,” said the Cardinals rookie linebacker. “I’m used to humidity. I’m used to sweating. I’m looking at my skin out there and I’m not even sweating and it’s scorching.”
Prior to being signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cardinals the Summit, NJ native had only made one stop in the western United States, California. He learned immediately, training in the desert required quite the regiment overhaul.
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“You know you diet a certain way,” said Oplinger. “For nearly two years I basically ate the same thing every day but you get out here and even though the cafeteria was amazing, suddenly I’m eating something different, my stomach wasn’t agreeing with me... then the heat, I was getting hit from all different sides so it was a big change for me for sure.”
Oplinger is one of the chosen few; an undrafted free agent trying to soak up enough and show enough in May and June to earn an invitation to Cardinals training camp at the end of July.
“I wasn’t even sure I would get a shot,” said Oplinger. “I was praying every day that I would get an opportunity and [when the Cardinals called] this made the most sense. “It’s just surreal because as a kid you sit back and you’re playing in the backyard saying to yourself, I want to go to the NFL, I want to go to the NFL.”
For a high school football standout with NFL dreams, Oplinger chose a road less traveled for those seeking professional football glory. Oplinger chose to play his college football at Yale following in the Bulldog footsteps of his older brother Justin.
“I actually did not want to go to Yale initially because my brother went there,” said Oplinger. “I did not want people to think that I got in because of him. But in the end I was under recruited and I committed early. I went up there and knew this was the spot for me. I didn’t care if people thought I in here because of my brother. I said this is the spot for me and it turned out really well.”
The younger Oplinger flourished in the Ivy League. A four-year standout at linebacker, Oplinger ended his senior season as a FCS First Team All-American and claimed the Ivy Defensive MVP award. Leading the league in sack with 11.5, Oplinger was a finalist for FCS Defensive Player of the Year.
Oplinger holds a degree in economics from Yale but was quick to point out, smarts in the classroom only take you so far on the football field.
“I had to put a lot of time in the books because I went to Yale,” said Oplinger. “But these guys [his new NFL teammates] are just as smart as I am. They know how to pick up a playbook. They know what they’re doing and they know what guys around them are doing. I try to use my intelligence, but everyone here is smart and talented and the only thing that’s going to separate us are the opportunities we get and whether or not we capitalize on them.”
Oplinger is one of two former Ivy League rookies trying to latch on with the Cardinals. Quarterback Chad Kanoff graduated from Princeton. Oplinger is smiling but serious when he touts the Ivy’s football credentials.
“I love the stigma the Ivy League gets because everyone thinks we’re nerds and stuff.” Said Oplinger. “But I think the best 11 from off of each team in the Ivy League could hang with the best 11 from a bunch of different FBS teams. I mean that’s how we think. Now Alabama might look at us [differently] but our coach always instilled that confidence in us.”
And now Oplinger is trying to instill similar confidence with his new NFL head coach.
“It’s tough,” said Oplinger. “With us [undrafted rookies], we’re coming in and if we make one mistake, we can get cut, so we’re on a short leash. I just want to go in there with an open mind and a clear head and say, all right, what do you need from me and what can I do myself to have a successful career. I think this is the best spot for me. I think this is an unbelievable organization.”
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