By Mikael Krummel

A lot goes into building a standout reputation for attracting the nation’s most talented student athletes to play University of Oregon football. Just ask head coach Dan Lanning about the many building blocks of successful recruiting. Like food. Lanning’s a huge fan of chef Stephen Sheehan and the role his restaurant, Elk Horn Brewery, plays as food purveyors and caterers for Duck players and recruits.

“They do a great job of bringing us food that’s not necessarily always available around Eugene,” says Lanning. “Stephen makes Eugene a home for people who may be coming here from a long way away. It’s special that he’s always willing to adjust on the fly and make different foods for us.”

Sheehan’s reputation as a local restaurateur started a dozen years back, after he moved to Eugene following a career-ending injury as a defensive back at Mississippi State University. Early on, the Southern-style food Sheehan sold from his UO-area food cart, Delacata, earned the former jock a trio of “Best Food Cart” awards. It also prompted him to open Elk Horn near campus. 

Call it an investment in food, friends, and Duck sports. Legendary UO track and field head coach Robert Johnson established a close personal friendship with Sheehan during Johnson’s UO tenure. The relationship led to Sheehan catering many track team events and establishing Elk Horn as a gathering place for athletes and track staff. It also led to Sheehan building working ties to UO football managers like Chip Kelly and Mario Cristobal, plus coaches, players, and staff in other Duck athletic programs.

Sheehan and his Elk Horn colleagues are primary caterers at a host of player recruitment events managed by Lanning and his coaches. Sometimes a dozen or more players and coaches do business together at Elk Horn. Other times as many as 300 established players, new recruits, and their families get together at catered parties at Lanning’s home.

“My work is about making connections with the kids,” offers Sheehan. “I want players to feel my connection to them. Their lives should be about more than just football. I’m about pleasing people. I’m about making people happy!”