Paul Nguyen is nothing if not realistic. 

He knew his chances of playing on the Abilene High School football team last fall weren’t great. A 5’2″ receiver isn’t often the type of player the most successful football programs are built around.

So, one day last spring, Nguyen (pronounced WIN) approached assistant coach Conlan Aguirre and asked about some other opportunities within the program, a move that would keep him around the team. Head coach Mike Fullen then hatched a plan, making Nguyen the program’s Director of Graphic Design, putting him in charge of AHS football’s videos, social media, and graphics.

It was a chance for Nguyen, who never even understood football until he was in the ROTC’s Push-up crew his junior year, to remain attached to a sport he now loved and provide a service to Coach Fullen and the team with quality content.

“I had started taking photos and videos using a friend’s camera while I was on the push-up crew, and I loved it,” said Nguyen, whose photo, video, and editing skills are self-taught. “Then, when I started playing football, doing powerlifting, and running track, I began to understand and enjoy sports. I kept taking more and more videos and photos, and the coaches kept using them. 

“Last spring – before the end of my junior year – I went to Coach Fullen, and I said, ‘Coach, I have zero chance of playing for you in the fall, and I know that,” Nguyen said. “I loved my time playing and being a receiver, but I can’t help my team. I’m going to hurt my team by taking away practice reps from other guys who will help the team.”

Coach Fullen picks up the story from there.

“I told him I wanted him to stay in the program because he’s a good kid, he represents us well, and his teammates love him,” Fullen said. “So it just came to me one day, and we made him the Director of Graphic Design. I told him to follow us around, travel with us, we gave him a locker, etc., and create our version of Hard Knocks.

“He and Noah Hatcher were voted the Chuck Moser Award winners this year,” Fullen said of the award given to those on the team that exhibit leadership, work ethic, commitment, and effort. “This whole thing was done on a whim, but it’s good that we had that conversation.”

Nguyen wants to continue to hone his skills in college, working for the athletics media relations department at the university of his choosing. In this case, he might find it difficult to carve out the time to make it happen right away since he’ll be attending the United States Military Academy Prep School in 2023-24 and then moving on to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2024-25.

Nguyen learned of his appointment in early April, earning one of the 200 spots available in the prep school on the same grounds in West Point as one of the nation’s most historic universities. Nguyen is the second member of his family to earn an appointment after his older brother, Peter Nguyen, earned an appointment last year at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Peter spent this year at the USAFA prep school and will begin his academy career in the fall.

Paul Nguyen spent the last four years working toward achieving his goal of earning an appointment to West Point, and while he’ll have to serve one year in the prep school, he’s confident he’ll fulfill that goal in the fall of 2024 when he begins his Plebe (freshman) year.

“I’ve been thinking about West Point for several years, and I’ve worked really hard to get into the academy,” he said. “There’s a lot of academic and physical criteria, and I’ve spent a lot of time on each of those areas. Academically, I’m sitting at about 14th in my graduating class, but I’m not a great standardized test-taker, so I only scored 1,130 on the SAT, which hurt me in terms of getting into West Point.”

Nguyen had his interview with Congressman Jody Arrington earlier this year, and his nomination was moved up the chain. When he interviewed with his Field Force Representative in Lubbock, he learned that his letter was in “Cue 3,” which tells the applicant that everything on the application looks good. With only about 1,100 appointments available each year, getting into one of the service academies is extremely difficult and requires a lot of patience.

Nguyen’s patience would be tested when he learned from his Field Force Representative that he wasn’t the Congressman’s top selection and was now on a waiting list. 

“My Field Force Representative told me, ‘You’re on the bench, and your chances of getting in now are extremely low,’ ” Nguyen recalled. “I just remember feeling dejected and started thinking about my backup plan. I thought I would go to Texas A&M, join the Corps of Cadets, stay one year, and then re-apply to West Point.”

Like his older brother, Nguyen had also received a scholarship for a seven-week flight training school in the summer, so Paul was already planning on taking that course and then going to A&M. He had already earned Army ROTC and Air Force ROTC scholarships, which would cover the cost of his education completely.

Then fate intervened.

Nguyen returned to Abilene early one morning from the Texas Public Safety Association competition and decided to check his email before showering and going to bed. At 2:30 a.m., he opened his email to see he had an official correspondence from West Point. After logging into the portal, he opened his email and clicked on the attached PDF, which told him he had been accepted into the United States Military Academy Prep School.

“I went into the bathroom and just started yelling,” Nguyen said. “I was so excited. So grateful. So excited that it had worked out. When I got that response from the Field Force Representative, I was devastated because I had worked so hard and put all four years of my high school career into getting into West Point. What he said was hard to hear. But that email … that was a life-changing email.”

Abilene High JROTC instructor Lt. Col. (ret.) Robert Davidson said Nguyen hadn’t surprised him with the relentless pursuit of his goals.

“Paul has earned my respect through his sense of integrity first, service before himself, and excellence in all he does,” Davidson said. “Paul has wanted to attend West Point for much longer than I’ve known him. Paul sets goals and works to achieve them, and I’ve seen him do that from the first day I met him, whether in academics, athletics, or JROTC. I’ve truly enjoyed teaching, mentoring, and helping Paul during the last four years.”

Nguyen will report to West Point, New York, in early July to begin training and attend prep school next year. When he enrolls in the academy, he plans to major in pre-law and political science to become a military lawyer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG Corps).

“I’ve experienced so many things growing up and living in 15 different cities,” said Nguyen, whose father lives in Georgia and whose mother passed away last year. “I’m very grateful for what I have, no matter what I’ve been through. My No. 1 rule is to look for the good in everything and stay optimistic. At the same time, I hate evil-doing, and I figure the best I can combat that is to join the justice system and fight it with everything I have.”