The Big Sky Conference is proud to unveil its Top 50 male athletes in its 50th anniversary celebration. All-time great Portland State running back Charles "Chip" Dunn ranks as number 35. Dunn, who played at PSU from 1997-2000, rushed for more than 6,000 yards as a Viking, was a first-team All-American and is a member of the Portland State Athletics Hall of Fame.
Sight unseen, Charles "Chip" Dunn signed a National Letter of Intent to play football at Portland State.
The scholarship offer from PSU's coach at the time Tim Walsh came that day. Dunn, who ranks 35th on the Big Sky Conference's list of "50 Greatest Male Athletes," didn't even tell his parents he inked with the Vikings.
"I told my parents if I didn't get a scholarship offer, I was going to join the military,'' said Dunn, who is now a branch manager at a U.S. Bank in Portland. "If I got a scholarship offer, I was going to go get my education. UNLV was recruiting me as a cornerback. But signing day, I never heard from UNLV. I thought I might lose that opportunity as well. I signed the letter at school, and went home and told my parents. I never took a trip to Portland. I really didn't know much about it at all.''
Had another running back not spurned the Vikings at the last minute, the offer from Portland State would not have come. Aristotle Thompson, who currently serves as Walsh's running back's coach at Cal Poly, surprised Walsh and his staff by putting on a Boise State hat during his press conference, and not the green and white of Portland State.
"Our offensive coordinator at the time, Bob Cole, came to me and said, 'If we don't get Aristotle, I want Charles Dunn,' '' Walsh recalled. "I said, 'I'd like to have him too, but I think he's going to sign with UNLV.' We got him on the phone and he said yes. The rest is history.''
Dunn, who played at John Muir High School in Pasadena, Calif., is one of just two players in Big Sky Conference history to rush for 6,000 career yards. He amassed 6,007 yards in 44 games, ranking second in league history only to his contemporary Charles Roberts of Sacramento State.
Dunn averaged 136.52 rushing yards per game, which ranks fourth all-time in league history. He had 54 rushing touchdowns, which ranks second in league history. He also ranks second all-time with 6,633 all-purpose yards. Three times, Dunn was named First Team All-Conference.
"My father would tell me back in the day that when you step on the football field, you have to believe you are the best player on the field,'' Dunn said. "When I played, I always wanted to leave nothing to chance. I never wanted to take a play off.''
Walsh and his coaching staff thought about playing Dunn as a true freshman in 1996, the year the previously Division II Vikings joined the Big Sky Conference.
"We decided that year that all the freshman we had in our program we were going to redshirt,'' Walsh said. "We wanted to let them grow together and establish a Division I football team. He was one of the catalysts."
The plan worked. With Dunn, quarterback Jimmy Blanchard wide receiver Orshawante Bryant, cornerback Rashad Floyd, defensive tackle Sage Tuitele, linebacker DeAngelo Hunter, and the later addition of wide receiver Terry Charles, Portland State quickly became competitive in the Big Sky.
In 1997, Dunn rushed for 1,176 yards and eight touchdowns as the Vikings went 3-5 in conference and 4-7 overall. Dunn gained 1,561 yards and scored eight touchdowns in 1988, when the Vikings went 4-4, 5-6.
In 1999, Portland State finished 6-2 in the Big Sky and 8-3 overall. Dunn rushed for 1,478 yards and 16 touchdowns. In 2000, Dunn led the Big Sky with 1,792 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. The Vikings earned an at-large bid to the I-AA playoffs, the program's only postseason appearance since moving up. But it wasn't the yards and touchdowns that were most important to him.
"Blocking, blocking, blocking,'' Dunn said. "For me, I know I was only as good as I was because of Jimmy, Terry, Orshwante, and the offensive line. Running the ball was fun. It was easy. I knew if I could block and keep the quarterback safe, other people would find success.''
Dunn played in an era that featured many top-flight offensive players in the Big Sky Conference. One of the other greats was Roberts, who competed the same four years as Dunn. Roberts won the 1999 Big Sky Offensive MVP Award. In 2000, the two Charles' shared the honor. Both were undersized, explosive running backs. Roberts was listed at 5-foot-6. Dunn at 5-9.
"I remember every time we played against each other, the headline, was what Charles was going to be in charge?'' Dunn said. "He being on the other side was always an added dimension. It was fun. It was never like, boy, I want to beat him. I just wanted to beat their team.''
Dunn didn't go by Chip to avoid confusion with Charles Roberts. It was a nickname he'd had since he was younger, and he still goes by Chip.
"I'm Charles the Third,'' he said. "My dad went by Charles and my mom hated the name Chuck. My grandma called me Chip 'n' Dale because I had big cheeks as a kid. Chip just kind of stuck.''
Dunn played in the Hula Bowl All-Star game after the 2000 season, but decided to end his football career soon after. He took his degree in speech and communication from Portland State and entered the work world. His wife Cynde, and their two young children Charlie IV (4) and Issac (9 months) live in the suburbs of Portland.
"He's just a great young man,'' Walsh said. "He was a quiet leader, humble. He had all the attributes you want a great player to have. He was respected by everyone and he was humble doing it. He was one of the great guys I had the pleasure to coach.''