Billy Oppenheimer walked onto Lehigh’s Banko Field for the first game of the 2016 season sporting an accessory unique to any player.
A feather hung down from the back of his head, visible with his helmet on, which was attached by a headband. From afar it might seem strange. Opponents have actually made fun of him for wearing it.
But according to Chris Appell, a senior midfielder on the team and one of Oppenheimer’s best friends, it represents his swagger and individual style.
It’s just the way he is.
“You never know, in a couple years there might be some little kid who’s watching him, and he might be wearing it,” Appell said. “It’s a trend he likes. He likes to be unique.”
And Appell is right. Oppenheimer said kids sometimes ask him for the feather after the game. It may already be catching on.
Oppenheimer doesn’t mind being different, which ties in well with his journey to Lehigh. Now, the senior from Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, is one of the team’s key regular starters, playing both attack and midfield for the Mountain Hawks as the team wrapped up its season.
However, he wasn’t always at Lehigh.
He committed to Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, his junior year of high school to play lacrosse, which was the same school his older brother Jack Oppenheimer played. However, he didn’t feel like it was the right fit and knew early on he would transfer.
He grew up about an hour away from Lehigh and graduated from Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. At Germantown, he was part of a talented starting attack group that also included Reid Weber, who committed to Lehigh the same year.
Lehigh coach Kevin Cassese said he saw Oppenheimer play a lot in high school as a result of recruiting Weber. Oppenheimer emailed Cassese to tell him about his transfer to Lehigh after his freshman year at Quinnipiac and showed interest in walking on to the team.
Cassese already had a pretty good idea of what kind of player the Hawks were getting.
“He was clearly talented and good enough to make the team, so we kept him,” Cassese said. “He’s improved and worked to become a better athlete and lacrosse player, and he had some natural chemistry with the guys having that friendship with (Weber) and knowing a lot of guys from the Philly area.”
Oppenheimer said coming to Lehigh and already knowing Weber made the transition a lot smoother, allowing him to fit in better. Initially, he had to live in a freshman dorm despite being a sophomore, but he switched over to a sophomore dorm where some of his teammates were also living.
“My class, when I came in as a sophomore, was really open and just a great group of guys that I fit in great with. That definitely helped the transition for me knowing that those guys were willing and accepting of a transfer,” Oppenheimer said.
“My class, when I came in as a sophomore, was really open and just a great group of guys that I fit in great with, and that definitely helped the transition for me knowing that those guys were willing and accepting of a transfer.”
— BILLY OPPENHEIMER
Weber said playing with Oppenheimer for the past eight years has allowed them to form a great relationship and really helped them jell on the field together. He said each of them knows how to put each other in the right spots on the field to make each other better.
Oppenheimer sees the game of lacrosse as more than just stats, wins and losses, though. He said it’s a great opportunity to build a work ethic, real-life skills and lasting relationships.
“You meet so many different people, and so many different types of guys are on the team, so learning how to form different kinds of relationships with different kinds of people is really special,” Oppenheimer said. “But the work ethic is huge, and that’s something I’m going to take with me far beyond Lehigh.”
Appell said he sees that work ethic in Oppenheimer much more than in the average lacrosse player. He said Oppenheimer doesn’t mind sacrificing a night out to tweak or string his stick to be ready for the next game.
“He’s always the last guy out of the locker room, and if he wants to shoot, he’s always shooting with (Weber),” Appell said. “People look at him like, ‘Why is (Oppenheimer) scoring so much?’ but they don’t see the hard work he puts in off the field.”
Weber said Oppenheimer is always making jokes to lighten the mood and doesn’t take anything too seriously, which makes him approachable, especially for a senior.
“The relationship I’ve seen him build with the freshmen is something that’s pretty special,” Weber said. “I think they all really look up to him and just are confident that they can go up to him and talk about whatever.”
Oppenheimer said the relationships he’s built with players on the team has been one of the best experiences he’s had not only from playing lacrosse, but while at Lehigh overall.
He said he still gets texts from players who played lacrosse for Lehigh long before him, congratulating him when he wins but also providing him with candid advice when his team loses. He said he values that type of relationship, especially when he or the team had a bad game.
Oppenheimer will have a chance to give back to the game of lacrosse once he graduates from Lehigh. He said he’s going to Australia in June for four months with Appell to coach and play in a league.
Oppenheimer said it’ll be a good excuse to remain in the lacrosse world, while also giving him and Appell a chance to travel, go surfing and be immersed in a new culture.
And while Oppenheimer is all the way across the world, somewhere in the United States, a young lacrosse player or two may be wearing one of his feathers, letting Oppenheimer’s legacy live on.
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