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Opperman transitions from rugby in Africa to Notre Dame football

To say Christian Opperman had a unique route to becoming a linebacker for the Notre Dame football team would be an understatement. 

Hailing from South Africa, Opperman was a rugby player by trade until he arrived at Notre Dame. Unlike many walk-ons, he didn’t arrive in South Bend with the intention of joining the team.

“At the end of high school I wanted to get an international degree, just to broaden my horizons, get out of my comfort zone,” Opperman said. “I decided to apply to colleges in the U.S. I wanted to do business, and Notre Dame’s Mendoza business school was very highly ranked. So I chose Notre Dame.”

Even after arriving on campus, Opperman’s journey to joining the football team was far from immediate. He stuck with rugby initially, before graduate student linebacker Bo Bauer eventually convinced him to walk onto the football team.

“I played rugby growing up and I played rugby here at Notre Dame,” said Opperman. “Before coming to Notre Dame, playing football was always part of my agenda. But after being at Notre Dame, experiencing the whole football culture, and after making some friends on the team that idea started to grow… Bo [Bauer] was actually a good friend of mine, he said I should do this whole tryout thing, and I kind of just went in to see what would happen. You never know if you don’t try- I tried, and they offered me a spot on the spring roster”

The switch from rugby to its Americanized cousin wasn’t as simple as one might imagine. It took some time for Opperman to get a feel for the difference in style of play. Specifically, he had to adjust to football making greater use of specific plays.

“I thought that they were pretty similar,” Opperman said. “But it turns out they’re vastly different. The only things that are the same thing would be the ball being the same shape and [they’re both] contact sports. But football is a lot more like chess, one play with all these different moving parts, whereas rugby flows more. It was a steep learning curve, having to study the plays, but it was really fun.”

A common theme among many seniors, Opperman highlighted the strength of the locker room culture as one aspect of the program he really enjoyed in his short time with the team.

“How competitive the environment is, it’s really a whole organization where everyone is striving together collectively to become better,” Opperman said. “We have all these catchphrases. The gold standard, competitive spirit, through it not to it. That really starts to become ingrained in who you are. You wake up, you have morning lifts, you don’t have time to complain about it. But you have a whole team going through the same stuff. And when you don’t feel like going, when you get into the weight room and the whole team is there, Balis is there… you gotta go. And it’s awesome. I love being a part of it.”

Oppperman’s experience with the football team was brief, spanning just two semesters so far. However, he mentioned getting to play in the spring game as a highlight moment of his career.

“That was the first time for me playing in that stadium, actually playing as a linebacker. And I got a few reps in that game, and that’s something I’ll always remember.”

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