Eugene, Ore. -- Travis Dye and his older brother Troy are Corona, California natives, which lies in the Inland Empire area. And in their new defensive coordinator in Andy Avalos, they found someone who not only knows their community, but is a part of it.
"It's just fun to have jokes and be able crack back and just talk about past players from our area and things of that nature," says Oregon senior linebacker Troy Dye. "And it's just super cool to be able to relate to a person like that on a personal level because at the end of the day it really is bigger than football."
That hometown connection was vital in establishing a relationship between Dye and his new Defensive Coordinator. Avalos arrived in February, replacing Jim Leavitt, who oversaw the turnaround of a Ducks defense that was among the worst in college football in 2016. Dye, who had an option to head to the NFL after leading Oregon in tackles for three seasons, returned and had to create a relationship with his third D.C. in four years.
"The high school he went to, Norco, is the high school that my wife went to and I went to the rival high school in Corona," Avalos explains. "So naturally there was a little bit of trash talking that was going on through that but having respect for him and his family, his brothers."
"I think it helps a lot because you break down a lot of barriers, you don't have to go through that murky phase where it's like, 'where is this guy from?' 'how does he feel?' 'what's really going on?'," recalls Dye. "I mean, me and Coach Avalos always joke around because he always wears that baseball hat and that windbreaker type of look, little cut off thing. I always call him an AAU baseball coach because he really looks like an AAU baseball coach from the Inland Empire. If you go look up those coaches from the Inland Empire he looks exactly like that."
Avalos told the media later that Dye has a different name for him everyday. One day it's the AAU baseball coach, the next day it's "like I just came off a yacht," Avalos jokes. He also happens to be Dye's position coach, taking over the linebackers from the now departed Cort Dennison. But the connection the D.C. and his star senior have extends to the rest of the Inland Empire group that's in Eugene.
"It's heartwarming at the same time," says sophomore running back Travis Dye. "It's like 'wow' you got Troy, me, Avalos, they're all from the I.E., we're all here. Then you got Jaylon Redd and Thomas Graham, they're from the I.E. and we're all here. It just puts it into perspective how hard we all worked to get here. It shows you how big the I.E. really is and how serious we really are with this football thing."