Flashback to a beautifully crisp winter day and Oregon’s win over Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Junior Troy Dye hoisted his defensive MVP trophy in the air as fans congratulated Oregon’s leading tackler for three-straight seasons on possibly his last victory in a Ducks uniform.
It wasn’t. Despite gaining traction as a “freak athlete” in NFL circles with an opportunity to make major money in the 2019 NFL draft, Dye chose to stay at Oregon for his senior season.
317 days later, Dye is still leading No. 6 Oregon in tackles, has jumped up to a projected first round 2020 NFL draft selection and has the opportunity to be hoisting a more prestigious trophy in the air in his actual final season.
Through eight games, Dye’s senior tour has featured 42 tackles with 6.5 for a loss including a sack, three pass breakups and an interception on one of Oregon’s strongest defenses in program history.
His highlights are stunning:
- In his final home opener, the smiling linebacker danced alone to the familiar tune of “Shout” letting loose and pumping up the rowdy crowd in a moment that will go down in history.
- Dye recorded a career-high 15 tackles and the most in a season opener in Oregon history vs. Auburn.
- Dye performed a snow angel in the middle of the W at Husky Stadium after overcoming the largest second-half deficit since 2008.
- Back in his home of southern California, Dye jumped into the stands after handing USC its worst home loss since 2009.
The Ducks are undefeated in Pac-12 Conference play, one win from claiming the North Division and contenders for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
On a scale from 1-10, how much fun is Dye having?
“I’m at a 12. I’m having a blast. I wake up every morning with a smile on my face, I come here (to practice) with a smile on my face and I’m going to leave with a smile on my face.”
The most telling moment of his season may have come from suffering a broken thumb and gutting it out at Washington. The injury kept him on the sideline against Washington State, snapping his consecutive start streak at 40 games and bringing a reality that it takes only one snap for a football season, or career, to be over. In a cast the size of a club, Dye returned one game later to beat up on the Trojans and show the truth of his character.
“That’s a significant injury that a lot of people would have probably waited to be fully healed and then go and play,” Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal said. “But what he chose to do is different. When guys like Troy speak, those are strong, powerful and impactful words. This (season) means a lot to him and it shows in the way he approaches practice and everything he does. I can’t say enough great things about him, I think he’s as good as it gets in the country.”
His words impacted Oregon's home opener, in which the Ducks trailed Cal 7-0 at halftime. Dye’s halftime speech eloquently made it clear the Ducks needed to play to their standard. The sentiment was echoed and the Ducks overcame their slow start to beat the Bears 17-7.
His actions speak louder than his words. Since returning and still in a cast for his thumb, the linebacker has hit a new level with three conference games left to play.
“He’s done a tremendous job over the course of the season but you really see it now, down the stretch,” Oregon Defensive Coordinator Andy Avalos said. “In my opinion, I think he’s turned it up in practice, since the injury. It made him want it even more.”
Troy Dye agrees that he has hit a new intensity.
“I realized that it can be taken from you. Within a snap, it can be gone,” Dye said. “I’m super fortunate to be able to come back and play with my brothers and end the season how I want to end it. I’m happy, I’m having fun with it and enjoying my time here.”
His teammates couldn’t be happier for him, either. True freshman Mase Funa beams when he details all the tips he’s learned from Dye. Junior Thomas Graham loves to see Dye prosper after witnessing him help change the program from a 4-8 team (2016) to a team on an eight-game winning streak with the biggest goals, a conference title and playoff berth, still possible.
What’s it like for Cristobal to witness Dye live his best life this season?
“I’m jealous. I want to go back to college and do it like he’s doing it,” Cristobal said.
In his final season, the future opportunities are ever-present for Dye. Every Oregon game, more and more NFL scouts grace the media press box. Dye accepted a Senior Bowl invite, where he can show off his elite agility and lateral quickness.
But before all of that, the Ducks need their leader to finish a potentially history-making season, which is exactly the kind of season a junior hopes to return for.