Dat Nguyen was conceived in South Vietnam but born in a refugee center in Fort Chaffee, Ark., after his family fled their homeland when Saigon fell in April 1975. His parents, like many of the 'boat people' who left Southeast Asia following the war, eventually settled in southeast Texas' gulf coast, where a sizable Vietnamese community formed.
Nguyen shined as a football player in high school, both as a linebacker and a punter. He received numerous scholarship offers but eventually decided to stay close to home and attended Texas A&M. He started 51 games in his career and still holds the Aggies record of 517 career tackles. The leader of A&M's 'Wrecking Crew' defense of the late '90s, Nguyen was a unanimous first-team All-American selection as a senior in 1998 and won the Bednarik and Lombardi awards as the nation's top defensive player and linebacker, respectively.
Though small in stature at 5-foot-11, Nguyen's determination and leadership qualities helped him overcome prejudices both in college and in the NFL. He was taken in the third round by the Dallas Cowboys and, after spending a season on special teams, became the starting middle linebacker. He would lead the Cowboys in tackles for three seasons and was an All-Pro selection in 2003 before a neck injury forced his early retirement. Nguyen is the first Vietnamese-American to play in the NFL.
Now the linebackers coach at his alma mater, Nguyen was given the Golden Torch Award at the Vietnamese American National Gala in 2004.