Troy Dumas Was Part of the Transition That Led to a Championship
Story by Shane G. Gilster
Troy Dumas grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in the middle of cowboy country. So it figures that when he first arrived in Lincoln his wardrobe staples included a hat, boots and belt buckle.
The image makes Dumas laugh. “No, far from it,” he said. “I didn’t always live in Wyoming.”
Dumas’ dad was in the Air Force so the family moved often. Dumas lived in Riverside, California; Syracuse, New York; and then moved to Cheyenne when he was 10.
The transition to a more rural area of the country was no big deal to Dumas. He made friends easily, even if he didn’t wear a cowboy hat.
“I grew up playing football in the backyards and fields,” he said. “It was just the thing to do growing up there.”
There were only two main high schools in Cheyenne, East and Central. There was also a smaller Catholic school in town. Dumas attended East where he played running back, safety and linebacker. He became a big college football fan and listened to Husker games on the radio.
“I liked that Nebraska was close and had a huge tradition of football excellence,” Dumas said. “There were a lot of Nebraska fans in Cheyenne and I knew that was where I wanted to go to college since I was a sophomore in high school. Wyoming was down my list because I wanted to play at a bigger school. I grew up as a college football junkie and always bought Athlon’s Big Eight edition magazine and College Football Weekly.”
Nebraska got a recruiting tip about Dumas from a coach at Scottsbluff High School, which played Cheyenne East. After NU watched Dumas’ film, Husker coach Tom Osborne called him to see if he would be interested in attending NU’s summer camp. After two days in Lincoln, in which he was timed at 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, Dumas received a scholarship offer.
“When Nebraska offered, it was a done deal,” Dumas said. “Colorado was looking at me on offense because I also played running back in high school. Nebraska liked me at safety, but Coach Solich said I could also try running back, but I was too tall and the competition at I-back at Nebraska was national. I was dead set to play defense.”
When he got to Nebraska, Dumas said he was motivated to show that the kid from Wyoming could play. He remembers new teammates from all over the country like Florida, California and Texas who didn’t think he could play at that level because he was from Wyoming. The doubters made him more determined to play as a freshman, which he accomplished in 1991.
Dumas was one of three true freshmen to play, joining New Jersey linebacker Doug Colman and California wingback Abdul Muhammad. He became a starter at safety in the Husker nickel defense.
The following year, Dumas backed up Tyrone Byrd most of the season but did start two games at free safety and played special teams. Then the Blackshirt defense made a transition, switching from a 5-2 to a 4-3 scheme before Dumas’ junior year in 1993. NU brought in consultant Larry Mac Duff, the Arizona defensive coordinator who came up with that school’s Desert Swarm defense, to help revamp the Blackshirts.
Dumas was one of the players who made a position switch from safety to linebacker. He officially moved the last game of the season against Oklahoma.
“What it did was we were able to put our fastest guys on the field. It made the whole defense quicker,” Dumas said. “Basically what we did was move the average running safeties to linebacker and some of the slower cornerbacks to safety. It just freed us up to cover and line up man-to-man and allowed our guys up front to handle their business. We were able to emulate what Florida State and Miami were doing. So when we played them, we matched up on them one-on-one.”
When Dumas and the rest of the Blackshirts played Florida State in the 1994 Orange Bowl, they proved to themselves and the rest of the country that NU’s new defensive era had begun. The Seminoles, with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Charlie Ward, were a 17-point favorite, but the Huskers sacked Ward five times and pretty much shut down the high-powered FSU offense in an 18-16 loss.
Dumas remembers the night before the Orange Bowl when teammate Trev Alberts called a meeting for the defense.
“He said everyone had already picked Florida State as the national champion and they already had T-shirts made up with ‘national champions’ on them,” he said. “He wanted us to give them our best shot and he led the way playing like a wrecking machine in that game. If you are a player inspiring to be great, he is a guy you need to model yourself after.”
Alberts is now the NU athletic director, and Dumas is confident his former teammate is the man to turn around the Husker football program. He described Alberts as the ultimate Blackshirt and team guy, who never thought he was above his teammates. He was a leader who led by example.
“He is already taking the football program in the right direction,” Dumas said. “When Trev got there, you saw changes being made. Trev is getting coaches in the football program who have a winning attitude, who bring something different to the table that is more suitable to the Big Ten. The new coaching staff and those transfer players should get us over the hump.”
When Dumas played, the winning tradition and culture were already set, and Alberts and the rest of the seniors that 1993 season helped set the tone for 1994 when NU finally won a national championship under Osborne.
“I would say our 1994 defense was the best when I played,” Dumas said. “Donta Jones stepped in for Trev Alberts when he left. Donta wasn’t as big, but was just as strong and fast coming off the edge. Overall, we had more faster guys on the field in 1994 than 1993. Our attitude on defense was to kill everyone. We wanted to show our defense was just as good as our offense. We practiced like we were in a game.”
The favorite game of Dumas’ career came in that ’94 season. It was against No. 16 Kansas State in Manhattan and their outspoken quarterback Chad May.
May made this inflammatory quote before the game. “If you watch Nebraska on TV, they always run the same offense and defense. They won’t show anything different. We’ll find the holes and pick them apart.”
The Huskers countered by dropping its linebackers into pass coverage, playing a combination of zone and man. It helped that Dumas and Ed Stewart were safeties earlier in their playing careers.
“You can’t say enough good about them,” said NU secondary coach George Darlington after that game. “You put one of those great receivers on a linebacker, and you figure they’re going to light up the scoreboard. Eddie Stewart and Troy Dumas had a tougher job than any of our defensive backs the whole game.”
Dumas had six tackles in the game and made two huge plays in the contest, which were game-changers. The first was a blocked extra point that kept the Huskers in the lead, 7-6. The second was an interception late in the first half. Dumas stepped in front of a pass at the NU 17 and returned it 54 yards to the KSU 29-yard line. The Huskers went on to win 17-6.
“We were supposed to lose that game,” Dumas said. “Just for the simple fact that we were down to our third-string quarterback and the whole talk that week was that Kansas State was going to win. It was a turning point for our defense. It showed that Nebraska had an outstanding defense.”
It also showed Dumas’ versatility. It was one of the main reasons he was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the third round (97th overall) of the 1995 NFL Draft. But a promising professional career was cut short by injuries. He ended up missing his rookie season after injuring his knee in the second preseason game. He then appeared mostly on special teams for the Chiefs before bouncing around with the St. Louis Rams and finally the Denver Broncos in 1999. Dumas played some in the Arena Football League and XFL before retiring.
Dumas graduated from NU in 1995 with a degree in human resources then got into coaching. His first job was as an assistant at Cheyenne Central High School, then as the defensive coordinator at Doane College under head coach and former Husker teammate Tommie Frazier. Dumas continued to move up the coaching ranks in 2008 as the linebacker coach at Southeast Missouri State. He also earned an NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship with the Kansas City Chiefs.
While at Southeast Missouri, he served under head coach and former NU assistant coach Tony Samuel. Other former Huskers were also on the staff, including Brian Boerboom, Lorenzo Brinkley, Chris Norris and Kenny Wilhite.
Dumas got out of coaching around 2012. His dad had health complications so he moved back to Cheyenne to help him. He’s now living in Fort Collins, Colorado, working for the state in its compliance department in Denver, ensuring businesses are complying with the workers’ compensation act.
The 49-year-old has been married for the last 13 years to Elizabeth (Cansdale), who played basketball at Ole Miss. They met at Southeast Missouri where Elizabeth was an assistant basketball coach.
The couple have two boys (Donovan 12, Derek 11) and one daughter (Anna 9). All three are involved in sports and inspire to be future Huskers. Dumas helps coach his sons’ youth football teams but likely won’t coach at a higher level as he once did.
“My body is pretty beat up nowadays,” he said. “I’ve had shoulder and knee replacements, with severe arthritis in all my joints all from my football playing career.”
But despite the physical wear and tear he suffered playing in college and the NFL, he wouldn’t change that experience, especially at Nebraska during that two-year run playing for the national championship.
“In all of college football history, there hasn’t been too many teams do what we did,” Dumas said. “We weren’t the most talented but we played with huge hearts and we never gave up. We were all brothers and had one goal in mind. A lot of college football players never get to experience that kind of opportunity.”