Long Nguyen will be honored March 1 by the Orange County chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame.
Nguyen, who graduated from Fallbrook High School in 2006 and is now a senior at Chapman University, received the honor for both his on-field contributions to Chapman’s football team and his off-field achievements. The National Football Foundation honors football players who excel in academic work as well as on the field. The names of Nguyen and the other honorees will be listed in the College Football Hall of Fame. The banquet will be held at the Anaheim Convention Center.
“Long has been an excellent person in our football program. He has been very committed,” said Chapman head coach Bob Owens. “Long is an overachiever. He’s a guy who just gives you 100 percent.”
Nguyen was born in Da Nang, Vietnam, and came to the United States when he was five years old. His mother, Luu Thi Tran, earned a Master’s degree in Vietnam and was a high school principal there before leaving for America. Tran and Nguyen moved to Bonsall, where Tran’s sister still resides. Tran’s academic credentials in Vietnam were not recognized by California schools, so she became a farm manager for Shafer Fruit and Vegetable Ranch, which is in Morro Hills and grows Asian produce.
George Shafer has been an assistant coach at Chapman since 1994, when the Panthers fielded a football team for the first time since 1932, and was an assistant coach at Whittier College in 1992 and 1993. Nguyen’s biological father still lives in Vietnam, and the Shafer family became Nguyen’s new family.
Shafer refers to Nguyen as his son while Nguyen refers to Shafer as his father and to Mark Shafer as his brother.
Mark Shafer, who graduated from Fallbrook High School in 1996, was Whittier’s ball boy in 1992 and 1993, and Chapman’s ball boy in 1994 and 1995. Shafer was a backup at Fallbrook High School, starting the 1995 season’s final two games after the Warriors’ first-string right tackle broke his arm, but was a starting center for three years at Chapman and twice earned NCAA Division III All-American honors. Shafer played professionally in Germany before being admitted to Chapman’s law school and now practices law in Orange County.
In 2002 Shafer received the same National Football Foundation honor his brother was awarded eight years later. “I think that’s outstanding,” Owens said. “That’s quite an honor for George’s family to have two kids.”
Nguyen accompanied his father to Fallbrook High School and Chapman football activities. “He brought me along and I saw what they did,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen, who was listed as 5’10” and 150 pounds for his senior year at Chapman, weighed about 120 pounds as a high school freshman. “He decided he was going to be a football player,” Shafer said.
His mother placed a condition on that aspiration. “I had to get a 4.0,” Nguyen said.
That would prove to be just another challenge for Nguyen, who graduated from Fallbrook High School with a cumulative 4.16 grade point average and carries a cumulative 3.5 grade point average into his final semester at Chapman.
As for his size and his early unfamiliarity with football, that would become an advantage rather than a disadvantage. He was sometimes teased by schoolmates due to his relative lack of proficiency in English, and he took out his anger on the football field.
Nguyen, who did not play Pop Warner Football, had to learn numerous football skills. At his first practice he put his hip pads on backwards.
Nguyen attended Bonsall Elementary School and Sullivan Middle School before joining the Fallbrook High School freshman football team in 2002. He mostly played the extra quarter which is provided so non-starting freshman can participate. Nguyen was on the Warriors’ junior varsity team as a sophomore and junior and was on the varsity as a senior but didn’t start. He was mostly on special teams with the varsity and had one fumble recovery.
The fumble recovery was the highlight of his on-field career at Fallbrook High School. “The highlight was just hanging out with all my teammates. There’s a very special bond,” he said.
Nguyen also spent three years as a pole vaulter on Fallbrook High School’s track and field team, competing at the junior varsity level as a freshman and sophomore while vaulting on the varsity in eleventh grade. As a senior he played lacrosse.
Nguyen was also in Fallbrook High School’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes as a junior and senior, and he also joined the Asian-Pacific Islanders Club since his cousins were involved in that group and he wanted to be with his family. “I think my priority is God, family, school, and then sports,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen’s high school activities also included four years as Chapman’s ball boy. Nguyen also followed his brother in working at the annual American Football Coaches Association convention, an activity he continued while at Chapman.
Nguyen spent much of his Chapman football career on the “scout team” which utilizes reserves who replicate an upcoming opponent’s formation for the starters to combat in practice.
During actual games Nguyen was on the field for fewer than ten plays during his first three seasons at Chapman.
Nguyen did earn recognition as the scout team player of the week several times, and during his final games as a senior he earned a spot as a first-team special teams player for kicks and kick returns. “The coaches rewarded me with opportunities to actually play,” Nguyen said. “I did not mess up.”
Once again being part of the team meant more to Nguyen than any on-field activity. “Being acknowledged by my teammates was probably the highlight,” he said.
The recognition also included being selected as special teams captain on a game-by-game basis.
As for on-field highlights, Nguyen threw two blocks during an 89-yard kickoff return Nov. 7 against Redlands.
“When he’s in the game you know you’re going to get the best that he has,” Owens said of Nguyen.
“He plays it with adrenaline and heart,” Shafer said.
In addition to participating on the football team and taking a pre-medical curriculum, Nguyen has also been involved with film production for both Chapman’s football team and the women’s basketball program. Nguyen was also involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at Chapman.
“Long is a really sharp young man,” Owens said. “He’s going to be a huge loss to the program. Long is a guy that is going to be very missed in this program because of his overall commitment.”
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