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NIU men's basketball: DeKalb's Caleb Oehlberg earns walk-on status

DeKALB – On Northern Illinois game days, Caleb Oehlberg usually is responsible for providing the players water, mopping up spills and bringing stools onto the court during timeouts. 

When the Huskies took the court Jan. 6 against Ohio, however, Oehlberg suited up for the first time as a player after being promoted by coach Mark Montgomery. Oehlberg, a DeKalb native, has been a team manager since June. 

He said being “called up” to NIU’s roster has been a dream come true. 

“Everyone around here knew that’s what I was working for and hoping for,” Oehlberg said. “Being around the team since the summer, I wanted to contribute in any way possible, but the end goal was always to be on it. 

“It was a dream of mine. I’m just grabbing every opportunity now.” 

Oehlberg was a two-year varsity letter winner at DeKalb High School. He helped the Barbs win back-to-back Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference championships for the first time in school history.

A spot on NIU’s roster opened up after former walk-on Jon Siu transferred to the University of Hong Kong at the end of the fall semester.

Montgomery said Oehlberg is a do-it-all guy. 

“Anytime a hometown kid gets the opportunity ... he goes from not making the team during walk-on tryouts to being a manager. And now being raised to the call of duty as a player,” Montgomery said. “He’s an energy guy. He does what the coaches want. He’s a good student. He’s a hard worker. He’s just a positive person to be around.”

Despite suiting up as a walk-on, Oehlberg still handles some manager duties. During timeouts, he’s still the first one off the bench to set up stools and pass out water. 

Doing whatever is needed is all part of his job, Oehlberg said. 

“I love the culture here,” he said. “It’s a winning environment. Everyone plays for each other. Everybody wants to win. It’s about being [part of] something bigger than yourself. Being part of a team like this, it’s a close-knit group. The one goal in mind is to win. It’s been great being around the guys and me being able to contribute in any way possible.”

Oehlberg, a marketing major, has yet to register any playing time, but he insists it’s not about that. He said the love received from family and friends justifies all his hard work.  

“Everyone has been supportive and everyone knew this was a dream of mine, and it really got realized a lot quicker than we expected,” he said. “This is my hometown and the school I’ve always wanted to go to, so it’s awesome.”

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