There is no substitute for hard work and preparation, and if anyone is the perfect Week 1 embodiment of this mantra it is true freshman linebacker Troy Dye. Dye wasted no time making an impact in his first collegiate game, loudly introducing himself to the UC Davis backfield and the yellow-clad Oregon fan base with back-to-back tackles on the fifth and sixth plays of the game.
Dye’s production increased, and by the end of the game his stat line could only be described as eye-popping. His 11 tackles (4.5 for loss) led the team and were the most by a freshman in 10 seasons. A quarterback sack and a blocked field goal completed the highlight reel debut for Dye and Defensive Coordinator Brady Hoke‘s new 4-3 defense.
Fans were not the only ones who were caught by surprise by the strong game from the freshman. Speaking with Pete Martini of the Statesman Journal, Dye explained how he himself was surprised by his production: “It was definitely the atmosphere I expected but the way I played, I didn’t expect it at all. I went out there and just read what I read and just played fast and physical, like the coaches told me to do.”
Hoke told reporters after the game, ”He’s a very good athlete. I think his football instinct IQ is pretty good.” That athleticism and instinct could be the ingredient necessary for the Duck defense to improve over last season.
After watching his aggressive and at times dominating play from the linebacker position, the Oregon masses had to wonder where No. 35 had come from. No one arrives in Eugene and accidently earns the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors. I asked Dye’s high school coach Chuck Chastain (Norco High School) what his first impression of him was. “What separates him is that he was an instant leader … first guy in, last guy out accountability. He has one mindset and that is to be the best,” responded Chastain.
Chastain found every opportunity possible to have Dye on the field. Under the coach’s direction, he played safety and some linebacker on defense, he lined up on special teams and played wide receiver on offense. He also was a captain his senior year. “When we needed a big play, he made it,” Chastain emphasized.
As the son of a professional baseball player and collegiate football player and brother to a former NFL defensive back, it would seem natural for Troy to carry the Dye torch on to more athletic success. It did not always appear that that would happen. In an interview with ESPN staff writer Chantel Jennings, Tony Dye (Troy’s older brother) speaks of the general opinion the family had of Troy’s football ability in his early high school years: “Troy was not a very impressive football player according to my parents and friends back home … we never really discussed a future for him because it didn’t appear that there was going to be one.”
That all changed when Tony joined Chastain’s football staff at Norco High School and Troy transferred to play there. Jennings noted that Troy relayed the message that his brother pushed on him. “He said you need to get a hold of the playbook, you need to watch more film to understand what you’re doing out there. I took that to heart.”
During a breakout season his junior year, Dye had 106 tackles and finished his senior year with 105 tackles and 4 interceptions. Even though Dye received offers from schools in both the Pac-12 and the Big 10, he was never rated as a blue-chip recruit – which makes his ascension up the depth chart and first game performance all the more impressive.
When Dye signed with Oregon, he graduated early so that he could come to campus and begin preparations for this season with spring practice. That work certainly did not go to waste.
In 2015 Dye was listed at 205 pounds, and now the University of Oregon shows him to be 225 pounds. That added weight allowed him to make a position change to linebacker, a position Oregon needed help in after losing most of their linebackers to graduation.
Tape from Dye’s time at Norco shows two standout attributes: he is physical and he is fast. He has always been an aggressive tackler who seeks out the ball carrier and is not afraid to take them on in the open field.
In an interview with the AP, writer Anne M. Peterson quoted coach Mark Helfrich (speaking about Dye), “Everything he does in drills, he just competes his face off and he’ll hit you … He’s a guy that we’ve been very excited about since the day he got here.”
While the physical preparation was evident with the spring, summer and fall work he has put in, his mental preparation was showcased on Saturday, as well. “Sometimes when I was out there I knew what was coming,” Dye told reporters after the game.
Along with the loud applause and worthy compliments Dye is receiving for playing at a high level in his first game, there is an equally strong – albeit quiet – sigh of relief, extending from deep in the river valley to the mountaintops of the Cascades: there is a new defensive scheme in town, and the Ducks have the personnel to execute it.
Although it is difficult to keep expectations rational after such a breakthrough performance, it is clear that the strong side linebacker position is in stable hands – even though those hands are those of the only freshman starter on the team.
Writer for FishDuck.com
Top photo credit: Gary Breedlove