This is the Place to Be
Story By Laurie Notaro and Heidi Hiaasen
Video and photos by Charlie Litchfield

Former Stanford football player Kodi Whitfield now tackles innovation in the University of Oregon’s sports product design studio instead of on the field

Kodi Whitfield was terrified.

As he stood alongside the baggage claim inside the Portland Airport, his anxiety grew measurably with every click of the whirring carousel. Only a short time earlier, his vision of having a career in the NFL was coming true; after four years of playing at Stanford, he spent the spring at the San Francisco 49ers training camp trying out for the team. Then, he found himself cut.

“But I got to fulfill a dream, which was playing in the NFL,” Whitfield reflects, “which was awesome.”

With the carousel spinning before him, his left foot soaked from stepping in a rain puddle on the tarmac, Whitfield wondered what he had done. What he was doing in Portland? There was no going home; his ticket was one way.

Had he made the right decision?

Kodi Whitfield biking near the Willamette River in Portland

Kodi Whitfield interacting with other students

Whitfield wasn’t in Portland as an athlete. He was in Portland to design products to help athletes.

With his degree from Stanford in engineering with a focus in product design and his love of sports, the transition seemed to be a natural one. The Sports Product Design program at the UO, the first of its kind in the nation, appealed to both Whitfield’s drive for creativity and his passion for sports.

It was the perfect hybrid.

Whitfield was not only taking a chance on Portland, but also betting it all on the two-year sports product design master’s program, which hadn’t even begun yet. Whitfield was a member of the first cohort of six in a program that created its own curriculum solely focused on sports products, and with Portland as a designated hub of the of sports product companies, the opportunities for its graduates are plentiful.

Kodi Whitfield sewing the soles of athletic shoes

Kodi Whitfield sketching athletic shoe designs

The goal of the degree is to sharpen innovation methods, design for the athlete, product sustainability, and sports product marketing and branding. Whitfield learned how to pitch a product, explore purpose, design, and learn to work collaboratively with other members of his cohort. Whitfield has thrived from class to class.

“What can I learn, what can I take from my experiences ... to pass on, to help someone else,” he says. “Product design means I’ll make things, and sports means they’ll be cool things.”

It’s his way of not only staying in the game, but also being a vital part of it.

When Kodi graduates this spring, he may end up staying in Portland, working for one of the companies on the cutting edge of sports product design.

For Whitfield, the one-way ticket was the right choice after all.

“Having made something, making was what I wanted to continue to do,” he says. “And I think that’s why this program is perfect because again, I’m passionate about sports, what can I learn, what can I make, what can I do to help someone else fulfill that passion? This is the place to be.”

 
Kodi Whitfield looking at the spikes on the bottom of football cleats