By Catey McCann, Staff Writer
At the UNH fieldhouse, the Kaplan name is pretty well known.
Matt Kaplan is a senior defensive tackle who helped lead the UNH football team to a CAA conference championship this season — rounding out his career with 139 tackles, 17 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries and an All-Conference Third-Team honor. Abigail Kaplan is a junior thrower for the track team. She currently leads the team in shot put and weight throw – throwing two personal records and earning eight top-10 finishes just this season.
But sitting side by side in Union Court, the two standout athletes are just brother and sister. They chat, laugh and tease one another.
“I’m close with Matt compared to other siblings because we are on the same campus, so we see each other often,” said Abigail.
Matt and Abigail are fourth and fifth in a line of eight Kaplan children from Franklin, N.H. For them, following in the steps of their older sister and brother by attending UNH was a bit of a no-brainer. They hope their younger siblings will follow suit.
“My little sister wants to go down South and I keep saying ‘Why would you go there? Why wouldn’t you go to UNH?’” Matt said. “I think she feels that if she comes to UNH, she already knows everything about it because she’s probably eaten at HoCo 25 times already.”
But he’s come to terms with it.
“If we get five out of eight [to attend], we’ll be good,” he laughed.
Athletic talent also seems to run in the family. Their older sister played softball for Plymouth State University, another played club softball at UNH, and their older brother played club Ultimate at UNH. Their three younger siblings are all three-season athletes in high school.
For Abigail, she credits Matt with getting her throwing career started.
“My freshman year of high school, I played softball and Matt told me all along that I should throw shot put,” she said. “So over the summer I started throwing and Matt helped me and then sophomore year I made the switch to track.”
“I tried to get her to bulk up to 230 pounds, but she refused to,” joked Matt. “I don’t know why.”
She said that throughout high school she looked to Matt, who was also a thrower on the track team, as a coach. She still looks to him for that support.
“If anything Matt has pushed me to want to throw farther and lift more so I can become better,” she said.
But she reciprocates that support. She named watching Matt play football as one of the highlights of her college career.
“I had a ritual,” she said. “I would always go really early to the games to watch Matt. I would show up and be the only one sitting in the student section and he would wave to me. It was just really enjoyable every Saturday.”
Perhaps because she saw first-hand the resiliency that Matt had when it came to the game of football. The 6-foot-1, 300-pound defensive tackle was turned away from the Pop Warner League in fifth grade because he was too big.
“They told me I would’ve had to be in the oldest age group, but I was only in fifth grade so that wasn’t an option,” he said.
He joined the middle school team in sixth grade instead — which burgeoned into a highly successful football career at Franklin High School where he was named Division VI First-Team All-State at defensive line. Despite offers from other schools, Matt decided to walk-on to the UNH football team as a true freshman in the summer of 2010. He didn’t play at all that season, but he continued to work hard and prove himself as a threat on the defensive line. By his junior year, he was starting every game and earned himself a full scholarship.
Abigail said watching Matt often gave her motivation for her own athletic career. At one point, the two even tried to work out together.
“We were in Florida for my sister’s wedding and between all the buffets and living the high life on vacation, I had to stay in shape, so Abby said she was going running one day and I was like ‘Alright, I’ll go,’” he said. “I don’t jog. I’m 300 pounds. I managed about a mile and Abby just kept on going so I said ‘See ya later’ and I turned around and jogged back to the beach and laid down.”
Trying to support and motivate each other is just how the Kaplan family operates. The two say the family is incredibly close-knit. Matt remembers one day during the season he was walking out of HoCo at about 8 a.m. and saw Abigail and his dad through the window.
“I was thinking to myself ‘Do I act like I don’t see them and just walk to class?’ I had a little mental tug-of-war,” he said. “But I ended up going to say ‘What’s up’ to them.”
According to Matt, his dad decided to swing by because he heard Matt had a financial aid question.
“I was like ‘Dad. You’re always up here,’” he said. “Any chance he gets he comes up here. Mainly to eat at the dining hall — I swear — but maybe to see us too.”
After this year the Kaplan siblings will no longer share the UNH campus. Matt will be graduating and hopes to get a job as an environmental geologist. He also would like to get into coaching down the line. Abigail wants to set new personal records with her remaining time as a UNH athlete, and then she intends to go to graduate school to earn her master’s in nutrition so she can become a registered dietician.
“It’s going to be weird next year without Matt,” said Abigail. “But I have a good support group here — and our family comes up a lot.”
“We’re just a very, very close family,” said Matt.