Like most elite high school prospects growing up in greater Los Angeles, Troy Dye dreamed of playing in the Rose Bowl.
The Redbox Bowl’s pageantry, prestige and paid attendance don’t compare.
Dye still found himself soaking up every second of Oregon’s 7-6 victory over Michigan State at Levi’s Stadium, including the postgame press conference.
The decorated linebacker didn’t know if it was a farewell address or not.
“I was looking around (thinking), ‘Man, this could be my last time on the podium at the University of Oregon,” Dye said at Pac-12 media day on Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Justin Herbert and Dillon Mitchell joined Dye on the podium.
The Ducks’ star quarterback had announced before the bowl that he was returning for his senior season, despite an NFL first-round projection. The Pac-12’s leading receiver later ran a professional go route and was picked in the seventh round by the Minnesota Vikings.
After leading Oregon in tackles for the third consecutive season, Dye went home to Norco, Calif., to discuss his options with his family, which includes his younger brother Travis, a sophomore running back on the Ducks.
On Jan. 10, Dye announced his decision to return to “create a special season with my guys.”
The 6-foot-4, 226-pound senior needs 121 tackles to break the Oregon career record held by the legendary Tom Graham (433) for 41 years.
“When I went home over that break, I just sat down with my family and talked to some friends and we just felt like there was so much still on the table at the University of Oregon, so much still left that I could do and give back to the university that gave me so much,” Dye said. “I just felt that it was only right that I came back for my last season because I know a lot of people who left early and they always say, ’In the long run, I wish I would have come back for that last season.’
“So I’d rather just stay, finish it out, have no regrets of not coming back and just have a good time with my brother, have a good time with my friends at school and just enjoy my last senior season, go out the right away.”
Dye and Herbert were thrust into the starting lineup as true freshmen in 2016. The Ducks finished 4-8, which cost Mark Helfrich and his staff their jobs.
Jim Leavitt did a quick repair job on the defense with Dye moving to inside linebacker in the 3-4 base scheme.
With fall camp looming Aug. 2, Dye is looking to lead a championship unit under his third defensive coordinator, Andy Avalos.
“Coach Avalos’ defense is very unique and there's a lot of different moving pieces,” Dye said. “He utilizes our length and our physicality very well. And I think we're looking forward to this upcoming season to showcase what we have.”
Two years ago, then-UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen made headlines after saying that “football and school don’t go together” because student-athletes essentially have two full-time jobs.
At the time, Dye agreed with Rosen’s larger point — the time commitment required to excel academically and athletically makes it challenging — but noted that players understand what they’re signing up for when agreeing to accept a football scholarship.
Dye will leave Oregon with his degree and already walked during the university’s June commencement ceremony.
“It was my main goal coming to college, to walk out of here with my degree. So to get that, it felt better than making a big-time play at Autzen,” Dye said of the accomplishment. “It was just a surreal moment because you know how much hard work, how much time and dedication goes into getting a degree. How many hours, how many times you stay up all night doing papers or reading. You wake up the next morning and do a 6 a.m. lift and you don’t want to be there, but you’ve got to be there.
“I was definitely super excited and I was super relieved that I finally finished and got that degree.”
Dye will now focus on helping the Ducks live up to their preseason billing as the Pac-12 North Division favorite, and perhaps finish his collegiate career in the Rose Bowl instead of the Redbox Bowl.