Eagles' Oehlbeck a daydream believer
Published: Friday, November 22, 2013 at 10:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 22, 2013 at 10:34 p.m.
There were times when his mind would wander and he'd daydream about the possibility. The kid from Buchholz High School would smile when he'd think about playing a game in The Swamp.
It wasn't because of any great love for the Gators. In fact, he grew up a Penn State fan. But to play in front of his high school friends and in a stadium where he had attended so many games, this legendary building, ah, man, nothing could be better.
“Even before it was scheduled, I'd daydream about what it would be like to have this game happen,” he said.
Today, it happens. Kyle Oehlbeck is a starting linebacker for Georgia Southern. At 5-foot-10 and 210 pounds, the chances are pretty good he's playing his last football game today.
And he's playing it in Gainesville, the city where he really started his career.
“It's come full circle,” he said. “It's where my career started and it's where it ends.”
When it was announced two years ago that Florida would play Georgia Southern in 2013, Oehlbeck couldn't believe it. Neither could his mother, Selma Isil, who moved to Gainesville in 2003 from Elizabethtown, N.Y., a rural town in eastern upstate New York. She came here for a job and brought her two sons. Kurt is a redshirt freshman on the Georgia Southern team and is expected to make the trip.
Isil works at AMEC Environment and Infrastructure in Newberry and plenty of her co-workers will be part of the tailgate party at a house on Northwest 21st Terrace where chicken sandwiches are on the menu and Kyle's friends and relatives will be pinching themselves.
Who could have imagined when he left Buchholz in 2009 the journey would end up here?
“It's very bittersweet,” mom said. “I cried two weeks ago at Senior Day because I knew that was the last time I'd see him play at Paulson (Stadium).
“I've spent so much of my time watching him play football.”
One last game.
One last chance to put on the pads and cleats and snap that chinstrap up and go hit somebody.
“It's going to be cool,” Oehlbeck said. “More people than I even know will be out there pulling for me. Win or lose, I'm just going to put everything out there on the field.”
He wasn't one of those kids who was born to play football. When the family moved to Gainesville, his mother signed Kyle up for soccer to keep him busy. He joined the Gainesville Soccer Alliance team and played through ninth grade.
He had played football as a kid in a Police Athletic League in New York but wasn't a big fan of contact. For some reason, his mother said, that changed on the soccer field.
“He was always getting red cards and yellow cards,” she said. “At the end of games, he was taking other guys out. I told him he was in the wrong sport.”
So he moved to football at Buchholz. He can still remember the day things changed.
As he lined up for a contact drill, the 135-pound Oehlbeck counted down the opposing line of players. His number matched up with the biggest, baddest lineman on the team.
“I just told myself to go ahead and go all out and see what happens,” he said. “We collided, it wasn't that bad and ever since then I've loved to hit.”
It was a good time to be in Gainesville if you were a sports fan because Oehlbeck's high school career coincided with the greatest run in Florida's sports history. He went to a lot of football and basketball games when Florida was winning two football national championships and two basketball championships from 2006-to-2008.
“More basketball than football,” he said. “My mom would get me something Gator every once in awhile, but I was more of a Penn State fan because my mom went there. But going to those games was a lot of fun. It was hard not to like those teams.”
When it was time to select a college, Oehlbeck did his research. He found out that Georgia Southern had an amazing tradition of championships and success.
When Georgia Southern offered, he jumped.
“I love Statesboro,” he said. “Friends of my mom's who have been there tell us it's a lot like Gainesville was during the 1970s. The fans are great. They love us win or lose.”
Today, he'll take one more swing at the thrill of victory in a stadium he always wanted to play in.
And at some point, Kyle Oehlbeck will probably look around and realize that his daydream came true.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.