Defining Your Legacy
As part of a series for Black History Month, we'll be highlighting the stories of several past OregonTF standouts. This week, Dino Philyaw spoke to us about all things from becoming a two-sport student-athlete at Oregon to his love for cooking—grilling, especially—and how it helped define his legacy in Eugene.
Dino Philyaw grew up playing baseball and football, and after a stellar prep career at Southern Wayne High School, he was all set to continue as a two-sport athlete at the next level. But professional baseball came calling, and after being drafted in the 14th round by the Cleveland Indians, Philyaw found his way to Florida playing in the Gulf Coast League two days after graduating high school.
"I learned what it felt like to be away from home," Philyaw recalls. "I loved football more than baseball but I was only 5-10 and 165 pounds at the time. I wasn't a big guy but I was fast, and I was really good at stealing bases."
And maybe he didn't know it at the time but a must-have travel item would stick with him for a long time.
"Even playing minor league baseball, I had a little travel barbecue grill in my bag," Philyaw says. "So everywhere I went, I'd go to the grocery store and grill my food."
When he says everywhere, he meant everywhere from a motel in Montana to the quad at Taft (Calif.) Junior College where he officially began his college career.
His stay at Taft included being named a Preseason All-American in football prior to his sophomore year. It also included encouragement from his roommate's girlfriend to go out and join the Taft track and field team. It was his first real venture into the sport.
"Track wasn't even on the radar," Philyaw said. "In high school, we had a few guys that ran track and went on to run in college but the track was more like gravel. I never really gave it a thought and just stuck to football and baseball."
By the time he got to Oregon as a junior before the 1993 season, Philyaw came into a situation where he was behind Sean Burwell and Ricky Whittle who were splitting time at running back for the Ducks. It only helped Philyaw maintain his focus.
"In the short time I played in the minors and then transitioning over to football and track, I gained a new level of focus to where it wasn't about who was already there, it was about what I had to do," Philyaw says. "So coming to be a two-sport athlete at Oregon, I came with a grown-up mindset versus 'I'm new.' I knew I had to outwork everyone."
In 1994, Philyaw and the Ducks traveled to the LA Coliseum for a conference matchup with USC. It was a series the Trojans had dominated to the tune of a 15-1-1 record in the previous 17 games, and Oregon hadn't won in Los Angeles since 1971.
But the Dudley, N.C., native wasn't intimidated by the storied programs—USC, included—that had run things on the west coast so it was all a matter of mindset.
"I didn't grow up watching those teams dominate," Philyaw said. "So when I came here, I had a mindset that we could do anything, right?"
Oregon left Los Angeles that day with a 22-7 win over the Trojans, and Philyaw had played a major role in the outcome. He carried the ball 27 times for 123 yards—the first 100-yard game of his UO career—including a 49-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Philyaw also tacked on three receptions for 61 yards.
"That game changed how we thought," Philyaw said. "We were bigger than just a regular Pac-10 team. We could do anything and that carried over for me into track."
It was a standout year for Oregon football that ended with the Pac-10 title and a trip to the 1995 Rose Bowl, the program's first appearance in the prestigious game since 1958.
Later that spring, Philyaw—resuming his role as a member of the track and field team—finished second in the 100 meters at the Pac-10 Championships to a familiar foe in UCLA's Ato Boldon. Dating back to his time at Taft, Philyaw had now been lining up for four years against Boldon who had also run at the junior college level at San Jose City College.
"Can you just disappear?" Philyaw says with a laugh. "Can I get a win? Maybe if you leave then I can get a little shine. But I was competing against one of the best in the world. That was my measuring stick."
Boldon went on to win four Olympic medals including two bronze medals in the 100 and 200 meters the next summer at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Philyaw, running with his football build at 190-195 pounds, remembers joking with Boldon that "pound for pound, I'm faster than you" and that through the first 40 meters, he was right there, but as he would recall, Boldon would come "collect the rent" over the last half of the race.
"I was dumb enough to think that maybe I was gonna get him one day," Philyaw said. "I didn't know when but I knew I'd have to grind. Maybe it wasn't smart for me to think it but every time I got in the blocks, I thought 'today could be the day.' I never shied away from the competition."
The Ducks were second to UCLA in the team standings that year, 163.5 to 142.5, an improved finish from the team's sixth-place showing the year before in Philyaw's first season with the program.
Philyaw had also finished third at the conference meet in the 4x100-meter relay with DeWayne Ingram, Pat Johnson and LaMont Woods. Philyaw, Johnson and Woods had also been teammates on the football team.
Those are some of the track memories that Philyaw reflects upon more fondly than others.
"We were on the verge of greatness and it was awesome because you had football guys and a couple track guys coming together, and we were right there on the verge of running some incredible times.
"When I came here, Coach Gillespie really wanted me to run track and I couldn't figure out why," Philyaw said. "When I got back and think about it later, I owe him a lot because track is where I gained my identity. It was that interest in me that made me like I belonged. Track made me feel like I wasn't just a football player running track but a track athlete running track."
By the time his time at Oregon was done, Philyaw had been drafted by the New England Patriots to continue his football career.
Remember that travel grill? It was still around.
"Then I'm a rookie in the NFL and I'm still grilling," Philyaw said. "Guess where I'm grilling now? I'm at the Foxborough Inn grilling inside my room. I look back and say 'what was I thinking?' but that was my passion for cooking. Wherever I went, it went with me."
It was a deep-rooted passion that began with his family back in North Carolina. Growing up, Philyaw would spend time in the kitchen with his grandmother learning how to cook. But it was time spent with uncles learning how to grill that really stayed with him.
There was a fundraiser in high school—the Pigskin Pig Out—that went to benefit the South Wayne football team where Philyaw could really start to show off what he'd learn. And growing up in North Carolina, it was all about pork.
"Learning how to cook a whole pig in North Carolina is like a rite of passage," Philyaw said. "You learn to burn the wood down to coals, then you shovel it underneath and then you slow cook (the pig) through the night."
The result: a taste and flavor that is "unparalleled."
Adjusting to life on the west coast in junior college and then at Oregon meant adjusting to life without some of that tradition he'd learning from his family. From Mt. Olive Pickles to Carolina Turkey, products from his hometown and back home that weren't available to him in college.
So when Philyaw returned to Eugene after his NFL career, he just started cooking—grilling, to be specific. He'd make food for his tailgates but soon people were starting to take notice and asking if he could do the same for them.
That, and a nudge from his wife Angela, was the spark that resulted in Philyaw's Cooking & Catering.
From grilling just meat to building a menu, Philyaw was just doing what he loved to do.
"The cool part was I'm just getting to cook the things I didn't get the opportunity to enjoy when I was here in college," Philyaw says. "It gave me the chance to do what I love and to give back part of my history of how I grew up."
The business, started in 2008, has also afforded Philyaw the opportunity to work with the Ducks, whether it's catering team meals or cooking for events like the NCAA Championships. He has been able to serve a broader outreach like fire departments responding to emergencies and other large-scale communities.
"I never thought it would get to the level that it is now," Philyaw said. "I just love cooking but I never saw it as a means to take care of my family, build a brand in the process and leave my legacy in another way outside of being an athlete at the University of Oregon. I get to give back by feeding people."