November 2021 ~
Mike Nguyen (Franklin, 1990) says he grew up basically just like his friends, and in a pretty typical, American way.
His path to Portland was unique, though — and at least somewhat miraculous — and what he made of himself both athletically and educationally also stands out.
Nguyen was a 2-year-old in South Vietnam at the height of the war. His family was able to flee on a ship two days before the 1975 fall of Saigon to the Communists.
Eventually, the Nguyens wound up in at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California, then moved to Oakland, Oregon, and to Portland, where Mike attended Creston Elementary and was a member of the band and chess club.
Nguyen remembers nothing of Vietnam and hasn’t been there.
“I recognize my heritage and I’m proud to be Vietnamese, but I grew up like any other American kid,” he says.
His father, a Naval officer, managed to get the family on a ship and to safety from the invading North Vietnamese. But at age 11, Mike had to deal with the tragic loss of his dad – a motorcycle accident left Hung Nguyen in a coma for 2 1/2 years before his death.
Mike’s mom, Hoang Tran, worked hard and supported Mike and his two younger sisters despite needing back surgery after she was in an automobile accident.
Mike began to show an interest in playing sports with his friends, especially Pop Warner football and Little League Baseball at Essex Park.
At Franklin, Nguyen won honors not only in athletics but also in the classroom and for citizenship. He graduated in 1990 with a 3.88 GPA, working two part-time jobs on top of everything else.
Nguyen starred in football and baseball for Franklin and played golf and even ran track and field (sprints) as a junior and senior.
His high school sports’ accomplishments included all-state football first-team recognition as a senior and three years as the PIL’s leading receiver. Every college in the Pac-10 other than USC recruited the 6-foot, 180-pound receiver/defensive back.
He chose UCLA and played four seasons of football there, becoming the first Vietnamese-born non-kicker to play NCAA Division I football.
He helped the Bruins win the 1993 conference championship and catching a touchdown pass in the Rose Bowl.
“I still have the football,” he says.
Nguyen was inducted into the PIL Hall of Fame in 2004.
After getting his degree at UCLA, he thought about chasing the dream of professional football in Canada in particular. But a good job was waiting for the mathematics and applied science major (with a minor in business administration), and he took it.
Nguyen went to work for the Analysis Group Inc., an economic and litigation consulting firm in Los Angeles, and he’s still there today, now as vice president.
Early in his working career, Mike went back to UCLA and earned an MBA in finance and accounting.
Nguyen, 49, lives in L.A, with wife Cristina (they met at work), and their children, 18-year-old Brandon and 15-year-old Mia.
The kids are into soccer, and Nguyen stays active with at least one round of golf a week; he is about an 8-handicap.
He hasn’t seen the remodeled Franklin other than in photos and videos online, where it “blows my mind.”
His mother lives in Tigard, as does sister Melissa, an education administrator. Sister Susan is in Chicago, selling medical equipment.
A lot of good things have happened in his life, and many good things come his way, Mike is quick to point out.
“I was very fortunate,” he says. “A lot of opportunities presented themselves through football, and I made it a priority to do well in the classroom.”
Franklin was one of those good things for Nguyen.
“I loved it. All my neighborhood friends were there,” he says.
His Franklin coaches included Frank Geske in football, Rick Rier in basketball, Wayne Lundy in baseball and Jon Abraham in track and field.
One of the things he remembers fondly is helping Franklin improve in football and reach the state playoffs his senior year — for only the second time since 1965. The Quakers, as they were known then, beat Bend 21-19 in the first round.
Nguyen says it was hard to turn down a scholarship at Stanford (academics) and not easy to turn down Oregon (in-state school) as well. But the decision for UCLA proved to be an excellent one for him and his future life. He loved playing football for head coach Terry Donahue (“incredible man, a legend, the kindest, nicest guy”) and having former Bruins quarterback Rick Neuheisel throw passes to him at practice as UCLA’s wide receivers coach.
The ’93 Bruins were ranked 17th in the nation and lost 21-16 to Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, despite Nguyen’s 5-yard touchdown grab from Wayne Cook.
“I was in the slot. I ran what started looking like an out route, then turned back into the middle,” he says,
The game he remembers most, understandably, was UCLA’s 27-21 triumph over USC at L.A. Memorial Coliseum in the regular season finale. The Rose Bowl bid was up for grabs to the winner, and in a thriller the Bruins came through over their city rival — and the lone Pac-10 team not to recruit the Franklin grad.
In high school baseball, Nguyen was a standout pitcher and center fielder, and he considered walking on in baseball at UCLA but then decided the demands of football and studies would make that problematic.