By Larry Bush
Published in The Burg March 11, 2021
When Dean McKillip was a kid in Galesburg working alongside his brothers at the family Wareco Station on Grand Avenue, he dreamed of being a Silver Streak football player. Mostly because his brother was one and in part because, well, that’s just what McKillips did.
And there were a bunch of McKillip kids in the house, 10 total - Dave, Diane, Donna,
Deana (who passed away in an auto accident) Dale, Donald, Dean, Duane, Danette and Darren.
With his father, Rich, coaching basketball and football in Knoxville, sports were ingrained into the fiber of the family and going to games were routine.
“That was almost all I could think about, mainly because my brother Dave was playing," said
Dean in a recent phone interview from just outside Salt Lake City, Utah, where he recently retired after a 31-year executive-level career with Coca-Cola. That lasted all of two weeks when Dr. Pepper came calling and he is the Division Manager in the Western U.S. “People would come in the station, talk about the games, the players and all I knew was I needed to be part of it.”
GHS was a three-year high school back then but from 1975-78, No. 33 was the player for the Streaks. His name became synonymous with Silver Streak football and people pulling into the gas station were now talking about Dean McKillip. He scored 8 touchdowns his sophomore year, 10 in his junior and an amazing 17 TDs his senior year. “Just because I played football didn't mean I didn't have to go to work,” he said. “All of us were free labor for my dad and he wasn’t about to give that up,” he laughed.
After capping an incredible high school career, including the team advancing to the first
round of the State Playoffs (a 23-11 loss to Belleville) and being named All-State, Dean was recruited to play football by all of the big Illinois schools, but ultimately decided on the
University of Iowa for head coach Bob Commings.
“I decided to play at Iowa because of my brother Dale. He said if he had the chance, he
would play at a Big Ten school. Iowa seemed to really want me, so that’s where I went.
“When you play at that level, you are just one of 80 other all-state players,” said Dean.
“You have to prove yourself on every play of every practice.” In his freshman year, because of injuries to starters (and one player’s inability to find his helmet), Dean went from the bottom of any depth chart to playing against Arizona and leading the team with 50 rushing yards. The next game was against UCLA and Dean was slated to start, but an ankle sprain kept him out the
rest of the year.
Two years into his college career, Commings was out as head coach and a new, legend- in-the-making coach entered the scene - Hayden Fry.
On Sept. 29, 1979, Dean scored on a 27-yard as the Hawkeyes beat rival Iowa State 30-14 for Coach Fry’s first win as the Iowa head coach.
“When Coach Fry came in, you could tell his mindset was totally different. There was no
such thing as a moral victory,” he said. “In the team meeting to introduce himself as the head coach, I walked up to meet him and he said, ‘You’re my starting fullback.’ And that was it. I think he watched a lot of scrimmage tape and got to know the players. The past didn’t matter.”
The Hawkeyes went 5-6 that year and 4-7 the next year, losing four games by a total of
Of course, Dean had experience with that type of coaching at GHS under then relatively
new coach Kelley Kane. “There were a lot of similarities between Coach Kane and Coach Fry.
They both managed the game many plays ahead,” Dean said. “And they gave players a chance to succeed. I asked Coach Kane for a shot at running fullback. I told him if I don't make it, I’ll play wherever he needed me.” And opportunity was all he needed.
Dean finished his Hawkeye career with 773 yards on 193 carries and 11 touchdowns,
two on TD receptions. (Yeah, they didn’t throw a lot back then.)
One of his proudest accomplishments was being named a captain for his senior year.
“You know, starting is one thing, but when your peers vote you captain, well, there is no greater honor,” he said humbly. “It shows respect for you, and I believe it shows the respect you give them.”
Dean parlayed what he learned from football into the business world. “At the end of the day, you surround yourself with the best people you can and know it’s not about your
successes, it’s about our successes.”
Dean is married to Michele and they have five children, Jason 37, Brittny, 36, Ashley, 33, Marlee, 12, and Evan, 10