Former Texas A&M linebacker Dat Nguyen was named as part of the 2017 College Football Hall of Fame Class in January, and he will be officially inducted during the 60th NFF Annual Awards Dinner Dec. 5 at the New York Hilton Midtown. He will be honored Saturday with an NFF Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute, presented by Fidelity Investments, when the Aggies host Auburn at 11 a.m. CT on ESPN.
By Matt Fortuna, college football reporter for The All-American.
Nguyen: Up Close
- Named a unanimous First-Team All-American in 1998.
- Won both the Bednarik Award and Lombardi Award in 1998 and was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
- Started 51 consecutive games and is only player in Aggie history to lead team in tackles four seasons in a row.
- Played for Hall of Fame coach R.C. Slocum.
- Becomes the 10th Aggie player to enter the Hall.
It was fitting, in many ways, that Dat Nguyen’s football life was confined to the Lone Star State. He was raised in the small south Texas town of Rockport, where football was all he knew. There were fewer than 10,000 residents, and local businesses would regularly close on Fulton High game days, with everyone supporting the team.
There were, in Nguyen’s mind, two colleges to know when growing up: Texas A&M and Texas. His visit to College Station proved intoxicating, and Nguyen went on to become the Aggies’ all-time tackles leader (517) while leading the program to its last Big 12 title.
Those accolades and much more helped the former linebacker earn his election to the College Football Hall of Fame, becoming only the 10th Aggie player in history to claim the distinction.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Nguyen said. “You look at all the men that have had the chance to play this wonderful game at the collegiate level, and now to get recognized for the accomplishment — of course as an individual, but in a team sport — I’m just thankful to get the opportunity to represent the great university and all the men that I played with during my time there and the coaches as well.”
This is actually the fifth Hall of Fame that Nguyen has been inducted, and it is no coincidence that the other four are all Texas-based: the Texas A&M, Cotton Bowl, Texas Sports and Texas High School Football halls of fame.
Fittingly, Nguyen was drafted in the third round by the Cowboys, who made him the first Vietnamese-American to ever be drafted. Nguyen spent his entire seven-year NFL career in Dallas before subsequently becoming a Cowboys and an Aggies assistant coach.
Yet when college interest grew during Nguyen’s prep days, he decided to take advantage of his chance to see the rest of the country, visiting schools like UCLA, Notre Dame and Michigan. His travels produced his first plane flight, taste of lobster and brush with snow. He initially committed to Wolverines coach Gary Moeller. For reasons Nguyen still can’t quite explain, however, his last trip turned out to be his most meaningful.
“For some reason when I got to A&M it just felt right,” Nguyen said. “I really was torn, because I liked Michigan. I enjoyed my other two visits to Notre Dame and Texas, but A&M was the school that I felt like was somewhere I needed to be.”
He added: “After a few days of thinking it over and praying, one night I asked God to give me a sign of what school, and then I woke up next morning and said: ‘Well, I’m an Aggie.’”
Nguyen, who has five kids, never veered far from his roots, and he currently owns a Chick-fil-A franchise in Fort Worth. The journey has come full-circle for Nguyen as his family has long been in the restaurant business, and they currently own Hu-Dat, a Vietnamese restaurant in South Texas, which was named after Dat and his brother, Hung.
“I’ve been in restaurants all my life, and when I got done playing I looked around to figure out what I kind of wanted to do in life,” Nguyen said. “My mom, when she opened the door back then, I knew she impacted so many people that were working for her.”