In all the ugly gloom that hung over Oregon Football’s 2016 season, there was at least one bright spot doing his best to shine through the ugly clouds.
As a true freshman, linebacker, Troy Dye, jumped on the scene and made an immediate splash, giving Oregon’s defense, one of the worst in the FBS, a glimmer of hope.
Dye, one of several athletes in his family, graduated early from Norco High School in Norco, CA, where he played Safety under his older brother, Tony Dye, who was the team’s Defensive Coordinator (Tony had also played for UCLA before a brief stint in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals). As an early enrollee at the University of Oregon, Dye hit the ground running, participating in Spring practice and studying Oregon’s playbook during his free time.
All the work quickly paid off as Dye soon became the first true freshman to start at his position in Oregon History.
As the season went on, Dye immediately became one of the team’s most vocal critics. Though he tried to be gracious, his frustration with the team’s overall lack of effort and execution was evident. As a new kid on the block, that public criticism may not have settled well, but Dye had the statistics to prove at least he was walking the walk.
By the end of the season, Dye had become the team’s top tackler and earned a number of awards and accolades, including: FWAA Freshman All-America, USA Today Sports Freshman All-America, ESPN True Freshman All-America, Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention, Pac-12 Player of the Week, Most Outstanding Player and, The Skeie’s Award, the team’s most outstanding defensive player as voted on by teammates (goducks.com).
In the chaos of all the frustration, it was Dye’s clear passion for the team that immediately caught my eye. On the surface, he seemed tough, vocal and perhaps a bit intimidating with his no-nonsense responses to media questions. It was that vocal and on-the-field toughness, though, that would be needed as the team forged ahead through a full post-season shake up. Up and coming vocal leaders, like Dye, would desperately be needed.
With the 2017 season off to a decent start under new Head Coach, Willie Taggart, Dye has remained a committed presence both in the locker room and on the field. And yes, he remains the team’s top tackler. At a glance, Dye is clearly a tough competitor that Oregon’s work-in-progress but much-improved defense definitely needs. A closer look however, reveals a more tender side of the once under-the-radar recruit from California’s “Horsetown USA.”
Admittedly, I had shied away from asking Dye direct questions over the past few months. I’m fairly quiet in group interviews as it is and my initial impression of him during media sessions was that he was pretty direct and a bit gruff. Last week, all that changed and I quickly realized I was too quick to judge.
After re-watching the broadcast of Oregon’s September 19th game against Wyoming, I noticed a brief moment of sportsmanship by Dye. After taking a big hit from Oregon Safety, Tyree Robinson, Wyoming quarterback, Josh Allen, hopped up to start the next play. At that moment, Dye walked over and tapped Allen’s helmet. Most likely didn’t notice because of course, moments like that happen during football games all the time. But, given Dye’s tough exterior, the quick gesture caught my eye and I knew I had to ask him about it.
I expected a short, vanilla-type answer, figuring Dye perhaps wouldn’t even remember the moment. To my surprise, he immediately remembered and not only was his response impactful; it was something I couldn’t help but highlight.
“Tyree had came down and gave him a good hit so I was you know making sure he was OK,” Dye explained.
“You always got to make sure guys are OK because concussions are a big thing in the game now. At the end of the day, I mean it is just a game so you got to make sure everybody’s OK so I mean I was making sure he was alright. . . . I don’t want anyone to have to play with a concussion.”
Perhaps it’s the mom in me, or perhaps it’s because of all the recent research regarding head injuries in football. Regardless, Dye’s words made me quietly smile.
As I made my out of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex that day, I ended up chatting with a member of the coaching staff who reminded me this was not the first time Dye had checked on a player this season. During the Nebraska game, Dye was the only player to run out and check on an injured Nebraska player. It can be hard in those moments to know if you should step out and approach an opposing player who is down, but Dye didn’t bat an eye.
It turns out that caring side of Dye carries on well past the end of the 4th quarter.
After the game, Dye is often one of the last players to be corralled off the field or on to the team bus because he is busy greeting and celebrating with fans, even if that means climbing a steep embankment.
“They come out and support us,” Dye said regarding the fans.
“I can spend an extra 20 minutes, 30 minutes signing autographs because I know a lot of people come from a lot of places from all over the state, out of the state. So if you take the time to come watch us play, I’m going to take my time to give back.”
It is perhaps these aspects of Dye’s character that has led coaching staff to describe him as having a “heart of gold,” something Dye credits to his mother. She’s just always been there for me,” Dye said.
And as it is for many athletes, it is of course his mother (and the rest of his family) that inspires him to keep going when things get tough on the gridiron.
“What keeps me going is my family,” Dye said. “I just know I got to help support them.
As the Ducks head into game 6 this season with several key starters out injured, it’s leaders like Dye that will be instrumental in keeping the team rolling.
As it turns out, Dye is exactly the type of player Coach Taggart talked about wanting from the get go. Tough, “Men of Character”- two things the Ducks definitely need to make it through the weeks ahead.
Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl