The following story was taken from the Montana Grizzlies Website. Peter was baptized in the Eastside region of the Seattle Church of Christ, and is currently a member of the campus ministry in Missoula.
Thursday, October 07, 2010 Updated: Thursday, October 07, 2010
Less than 24 hours after he stands in the spotlight of Washington-Grizzly Stadium with thousands of Griz fans cheering for him, Peter Nguyen sits in the back row pew of the Five Valley Church of Christ. Under the high ceiling of the local church, the sophomore running back quietly flips through his worn camouflage-colored Bible. Once service begins, he follows along to the pastor’s readings from books Luke and John. Surrounded by 50 like-minded people, he takes out a blank piece of paper to write notes about the sermon’s message of recognizing one’s strengths and weaknesses. Those anonymous hours keep his life in perspective.
“It definitely keeps me humble,” Nguyen said. “It meant a lot my senior year of high school because of the way I thought about church and God. I didn’t follow His ways. I needed the word in my life.”
Now as he gains more recognition on the football field by ranking seventh in the Football Championship Subdivision for return yards, Montana’s starting kick returner knows it is his religious beliefs that keep him grounded while his football career rises.
“I needed something to fill me up because football is great, I love football, but there is always something more when it’s over,” Nguyen said. “That’s when my (high school) coach came into my life and helped me change.”
During Nguyen’s senior year of high school in Bellevue, Wash., the quarterbacks coach on his team, Mike Fouts, encouraged Nguyen to join his church. Until that point Nguyen did not have religious direction, but with his senior year passing he reached a cross roads. Fouts’ offer set Nguyen’s life in motion. Through the church in Bellevue, Nguyen became friends with a group of people visiting from Missoula.
Those friends sparked an interest in Montana at the same time Nguyen became the 3A player of the year in Washington, led his high school football team to a 14-0 undefeated state championship season and received offers to play college football.
“Montana called me up and I was surprised,” Nguyen said. “It was the best offer I had. When I visited (Missoula) that’s when I was like ‘this is not that bad, there’s buildings and a city.’ I thought there was nothing out here.”
Two years later, Nguyen realizes how much he has in Missoula. He currently lives with the same group of college-aged friends he met through his church in Bellevue. When he is not practicing or studying, Nguyen spends his down time with them in their spacious house a few blocks from campus.
“These are really close friends and that’s the reason I came out here,” Nguyen said about his roommates.
Although watching NFL football before church on Sundays with his roommates or playing football during the week with his teammates gives him similar feelings to home, Nguyen said being with his family in Bellevue is truly home.
“His family is huge to him,” Cam Warren, a Montana red-shirt freshman receiver and high school football teammate of Nguyen, said. “He doesn’t talk to them as much as he would like, but he is getting an education out here so he loves it. He’s a big family-oriented kid.”
Nguyen grew up in a modest apartment in Bellevue with three brothers who all compete in athletics. Nguyen’s youngest brother, John, is a sophomore on Bellevue High’s football team, his other brother, David, is a freshman safety at Montana Western, and Nguyen’s older brother, Daniel, played basketball in community college.
“It means a lot when they come out to my games,” Nguyen said. “Especially having brothers that play sports too, I can relate to them.”
Behind him and his brother’s success lie hard working parents from Vietnam. Nguyen is the first Grizzly football player to have full Vietnamese heritage.
Warren said every time he goes over to their apartment, Nguyen’s petite mom, Hoa, will stuff them with her cultural cooking to the point where they have to tell her they can’t eat anymore. The times she takes them out to dinner, Warren said she will eat half her meal and give the rest to Nguyen.
“It’s awesome to see how much his mom cares about him and wants him to succeed,” Warren said. “She is definitely hard on him but at the same time she is the sweetest lady I’ve ever met.”
Before the homecoming game against Sacramento State this season, Nguyen’s mom and younger brother, John, woke up at three in the morning and drove over to watch the game. Nguyen said they make the trip as many times as they can during the season.
“Whether I do bad or good, they are always there for me,” Nguyen said. “They are family. They are always going to be in my life.”
Nguyen spent his childhood wrestling with his brothers and honoring the values instilled by his mother. That upbringing has helped Nguyen take his tough-love family values to the football field. After each practice as his teammates scatter off the field, Nguyen puts in extra time returning kicks, mastering his craft. At 5’ 8” and 175 pounds Nguyen is nearly the smallest player on Montana’s football team. However, he uses his size to his advantage when speeding by bigger defenders.
“He is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met,” Warren said. “He will be the last one in the weight room everyday getting in extra work.”
Nguyen leads Montana with 608 all-purpose yards and his developments on the football field have gained the attention of Griz fans, including head coach Robin Pflugrad.
“He brings that work ethic that he was raised in,” Pflugrad said. “He brings it not only in practice and games, but also in meetings. Those are fun guys to be around because you are going to get his best shot every single day.”
Two days after church, while his Grizzly teammates are relaxing after another tough two-hour practice, Nguyen gingerly walks across campus and meets his church’s youth group on the UM Oval. Wearing a dark grey sweatshirt and sweatpants, he slowly sits, completing the group’s circle as they gather together for Bible Talk. He opens his backpack down and reaches for his Bible. Sitting on the grass at dusk, Nguyen intently listens while others talk about what it means to live a full life. He takes a sip from his Vitamin Water bottle and thinks about the message. To him, it means staying grounded through his religion.
“I just do everything that everyone else tries to do,” Nguyen said. “Study, stay out of trouble, listen and take notes. That’s just me.”