All-American role model
Aggies' Nguyen proud of career, off-field accomplishments
Posted: Thursday December 31, 1998 06:15 PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- With only one more game to play, Dat Nguyen has begun counting up his accomplishments in college football.
There's the string of prizes including the Lombardi Award. There's helping No. 8 Texas A&M get to the Sugar Bowl. There's the sure shot at an NFL career. But something else tops his list.
"I've been thinking for the past year that I really set the ground for Asian-American kids who have dreams to pursue any sport on a collegiate level," Nguyen said. "I've shown that if you have dreams of playing any sport at any level you can see it come true if you put your heart and soul into it."
Nguyen (pronounced "Win") has been thinking more about his roots as he prepares to take on No. 3 Ohio State in the January 1 bowl. In New Orleans, he is being hounded by reporters, chased by autograph seekers, cheered by Aggie fans and counted on by his teammates -- the All American boy with an Asian face.
"It says something not only to Asian-American kids, but about the Vietnamese community and how far we've come since we came over here in 1975, since the war," Nguyen said. "To be where I am now, it's opened up a lot of people's minds that I'm living the American dream."
Nguyen's family fled Vietnam in 1975. His parents had five children and his mother, Tam Nguyen, was pregnant with him at the time. They left with just the clothes they wore and a little food.
It took months to make it to America, then months of living in tents at relocation centers in California and at Army barracks, including one in Arkansas where Dat was born.
"It must have been very scary for them," Dat's sister-in-law, Lan Nguyen said.
When they finally hit the little town of Rockport, Texas, the Nguyens had nothing but debt and determination. Dat's father, Ho Nguyen, shrimped for two years, his mother started a restaurant. Today, the family owns a restaurant and a marine supply company.
Football turned out to be the way Nguyen stayed away from trouble.
"He wasn't in big trouble, he was only about 12 then," Lan remembered. "But he was getting into things. Staying out late and Mom didn't know where he was, things like that."
Once he took up football, Nguyen said all he had time for was that and school work. It wasn't easy. Nguyen was small, but he was fast and he worked very hard. He made all state as a punter and earned a scholarship at A&M, only to be redshirted his freshman year.
"He talks about how he almost left, almost gave up," said fellow linebacker Chad Frantzen. "That's hard to believe, because he never give up on anything. He's the hardest working guy on the team."
The hard work finally paid off. Nguyen led the Aggies in tackles all four years he played, with 517 career stops. In the 36-33 double-overtime victory against Kansas State, Nguyen set a Big 12 championship record with 17 tackles. At 5-foot-11, 230 pounds, Nguyen received his degree a year ago and is in graduate school. But his first job will no doubt be tackling people in the NFL.
Nguyen said he still remembers the prejudice Vietnamese families encountered when they first located in Texas. And he said he still encounters it now, although not from those who know his accomplishments.
Meanwhile, back in Rockport, Lan said more and more "Asian Faces" are turning up, not just on the football team but in all sports at Dat's old high school.
"Because of Dat, the young people feel more accepted and more like they fit in," she said. "And a lot of white people know about Dat and welcome us more."
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