Former Dallas Cowboy and celebrated Aggie Dat Nguyen shared highlights from his life, touching on his childhood in Rockport, his first experience with football and his college and pro days during the United Way of Smith County's annual campaign kickoff.
About 300 people attended Thursday's event at the Cascades Country Club.
Instead of a certain financial goal this year, the nonprofit is seeking to pull in 10 percent more donors than last year. Some 8,300 people contributed to last year's campaign, which garnered about $1.6 million.
This money is used to fund more than 30 programs at 22 agencies that address education, financial security, health issues and crisis situations.
"The United Way gives hope to those people in need here in Smith County," campaign chairman Brian Johnson said.
Nguyen, 40, said his mother considered him a miracle child because she was pregnant when she and the family made the journey from Vietnam to the United States by boat in the 1970s.
Despite the trying journey, Nguyen came out strong, but he didn't start playing football until the eighth grade in Rockport.
"I fell in love with the game and the game became very interesting to me," he said, adding that the visualization techniques he learned in those early years helped him throughout his career.
Among his favorite Aggie memories were winning the 1998 Big XII Championships in double overtime after being down by 15 with four minutes left in the fourth quarter. A second memory was beating Nebraska at home in 1998, he said.
Nguyen said when he got to a Cowboys camp after being drafted, he was a bit confident, feeling like he knew how to play the game after four years in college.
But when he stepped out on the field for the first time and looked around to see Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin around him, that's when the magnitude of the moment hit him and he froze.
"They snapped the ball, I didn't move," Nguyen said.
He went on to move just fine, playing seven seasons in the NFL. After retiring from the NFL, Nguyen coached for the Cowboys and A&M before co-hosting a sports talk show in San Antonio and most recently becoming an owner of a Chick-fil-A franchise in Fort Worth.
A Closer Look
Visit www.uwsmithcounty.org to learn more about the United Way of Smith County or contribute to its annual campaign.