Dat Nguyen: From Vietnamese Refugee Camp to Induction into College Football Hall of Fame
One of the most inspiring and productive players in the history of the Dallas Cowboys is being immortalized this week for his outstanding college career at Texas A&M University. Linebacker Dat Nguyen will be inducted on Tuesday, December 5th, into the College Football Hall of Fame. Other luminaries from his 2017 Hall of Fame Class include Peyton Manning, Brian Urlacher, Marshall Faulk, and Steve Spurrier.
For Dat, this is a well-deserved award.
I’m writing this posting as Dat’s friend, not as a reporter. As a fellow proud alumnus of Texas A&M, there is no person, in my humble opinion, that better personifies Aggie football that Dat. He’s my all-time favorite Aggie player, mainly because he’s one of the finest people I’ve met on-or-off a football field. He’s one of my all-time favorite Cowboy players/coaches for the same reason. He’s the kind of person that makes you proud to be his friend.
His story is so inspiring. His parents were among 50 members of the Nguyen family that fled their village in war-ravaged Vietnam. He was in his mom’s womb when they reached America. Dat was born in a refugee camp in Arkansas. The family relocated to the Texas Gulf Coast town of Rockport and opened a Vietnamese restaurant.
Dat starred in football as both a linebacker and all-state punter at Rockport Fulton High School. He received scholarship offers to powerhouse programs like Michigan and Notre Dame, but stayed closer to home to star for the Aggies.
His record-setting college career didn’t come easily, however. The pudgy, short kid had to hit the weight room to muscle-up. He worked out three times a day.
Once he hit the field, there was no looking back. Dat remains the only Aggie to lead the team in tackles four consecutive seasons (1995-98). He started all 51 games of his career and holds the school record for career tackles (517) and double-digit tackle games (30). He was a tackling machine, pure and simple. He was everywhere on the field, diagnosing the play before the snap of the ball.
He was a unanimous First Team All American his senior year, and winner of both the Bednarik and Lombardi Awards in 1998. He was also the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
David Stluka via AP
Nguyen brought the same skills to the Cowboys as a 3rd round draft choice in 1999. He became the first Vietnamese-American to play in the NFL.
As for questions about his size, Cowboys scouting director Larry Lacewell noted that “we didn’t draft him to come in here and change light bulbs”.
Dat was a player, and he proved himself quickly to the coaching staff. He led the team in special teams tackles as a rookie. By his second season, he was the starting middle linebacker.
Dat spent his entire 7-year NFL playing career with the Cowboys (1999-2005). He led the team in tackles three times and was named Second Team All-Pro in 2003.
Dat retired in March, 2006 because of neck and knee injuries. At the time of his retirement, he was ranked 10th all-time in franchise history in career tackles (516).
In 2007, Dat returned to the Cowboys as an assistant linebackers coach/defensive quality control on Wade Phillips’ staff. He coached the Cowboys for 3 seasons. He also coached at Texas A&M before moving to San Antonio to continue his business interests as well as to co-host a sports radio talk show on 1250 ESPN.
Two years ago, Dat and his wife, Becky, and their 5 children (3 girls, twin boys) moved back to North Texas where Dat has expanded his restaurant business interests. If you’re ever in Ft Worth near Montgomery Plaza and get hungry for some Chick-fil-A, be sure to ask if the owner is hanging around. Yes, he’s a restauranteur (and I’m suddenly hungry for a 4-pack of Chick-n-Strips with Polynesian sauce).
Every one of us in the Cowboys organization who had the pleasure to work with Dat, and every Aggie who saw him play at Kyle Field, are thrilled for his induction this week into the College Football Hall of Fame. The hall is located in Atlanta, Georgia, but the induction ceremony – the 60th National Football Foundation Annual Awards Dinner – takes place Tuesday night at the New York Hilton Midtown.
Way to go, Dat. Whoop!
He joins this very impressive list of Members of the 2017 Class:
BOB CRABLE – LB, Notre Dame (1978-81)
MARSHALL FAULK – RB, San Diego State (1991-93)
KIRK GIBSON – WR, Michigan State (1975-78)
MATT LEINART – QB, Southern California (2003-05)
PEYTON MANNING – QB, Tennessee (1994-97)
BOB McKAY – OT, Texas (1968-69)
ADRIAN PETERSON – RB, Georgia Southern (1998-2001)
MIKE RUTH – NG, Boston College (1982-85)
BRIAN URLACHER – DB, New Mexico (1996-99)
DANNY FORD – 122-59-5 (66.9%); Clemson (1978-89), Arkansas (1993-97)
LARRY KEHRES – 332-24-3 (92.9%); Mount Union (Ohio) (1986-2012)
STEVE SPURRIER – 228-89-2 (71.8%); Duke (1987-89), Florida (1990-2001), South Carolina (2005-15)