One close ‘Phamily’ behind Miners diminutive fullback
There, in between the pulling tackle and guard, he darts.
Legs churning, knees burning.
Can’t see him? When it comes to Nevada Union fullback Vu Pham, neither can most of the defensive linemen or linebackers looking to clamp down on the diminutive playmaker as he heads for daylight.
The Hooper Stadium faithful makes sure you never forget him.
“VUUUUUUU,” they chant, and you know instantly who they’re rooting for.
It’s Pham, a waterbug-quick, spark plug-shaped runner who has added more than just fireworks to an undefeated Miners football team.
It’s not just the crowd that gets jacked when Pham and the Miners take the field. Heck, Pham’s skin turns pebbly just thinking about Friday nights.
“You work hard for one week and the best moment is walking out and seeing the crowd and hearing the horns,” he said, changing into street clothes after a recent afternoon practice at NU. “The game isn’t hard when you’re having fun.”
Having fun. Who would have thought, 10 years ago, that Pham would be here, juking defenders twice his size, soaking in the cheers under the bright lights, simply having fun.
For that matter, Pham is often amazed he’s here at all.
Pham’s family arrived in the United States from Vietnam a decade ago. His father, mother and brother came to Grass Valley at the urging of his grandmother, Autumn Hong Baker, who has lived in the area for decades. Vu Pham has spent the better part of a decade not only learning the fine points of the Miners’ wing-T offense, but the value of a culture that’s still new to him at times.
“I didn’t know how to speak English,” Vu Pham said. Now, 10 years later, his family comes to football games “rain or shine.”
On Senior Night on Friday, before the Miners pulled a come-from-behind 23-17 against Woodland at Hooper Stadium, Pham walked on the field with his parents – arguably his biggest supporters.
To say Pham is still adjusting to the culture, however, wouldn’t necessarily be accurate. When he visited Vietnam as an eighth-grader, Pham says “I felt like I belonged here in the United States.”
He belongs on the football field, too, despite the fact he gives up as much as 100 pounds to the defense when he carries the ball on his 5-foot-5-inch, 170-pound frame.
“We just go out and have fun. Size doesn’t matter. It’s about your heart,” he said, pounding his chest.
Tien Pham, Vu’s mother, admits football was a bit of an adjustment for her. Now, when she hears her son’s name bellowed, “You just feel proud to hear that.”
Tien Pham, who works in computer assembly for High Country Tek, has lofty hopes for her son here.
“I knew when I came here, my sons would get a good opportunity,” she said. Had she stayed in Vietnam with her family, it’s likely Vu Pham would have to forgo an education and work to support his family. College, Tien Pham says, “depends on him. I’ll let him go where he wants to go. It’s not my future.”
Vu Pham carries a college-prep caseload and a 3.5 grade-point average, and is interested in a career in criminal justice.
For now, Pham’s immediate future includes building on his team-leading 663 yards and eight touchdowns, and preparing for Yuba City on Friday.
Pham scampered for 81 yards on 12 carries against a tough Woodland defensive front.
Miners coach Dave Humphers concedes his fullback would rather lavish attention on his teammates.
“He’s humble and very respectful,” Humphers said. “Vu is a weapon. On 3rd and long, we’re just as successful with any of our three backs (Joey Bratton and Chris Thibodeau are Pham’s backfield mates) as we are throwing the ball.
“Vu is a coach’s dream.”
During the game, Pham is all business on the sidelines, with his brow furrowed.
He’s usually by himself, focusing on the game in front of him.
“You don’t come up to him during a game and say, ‘Great game,'” Humphers said. “He’s in the zone.”
No matter how many yards he gains, touchdowns he scores or serenades he initiates with his play, Pham will always be much more than a football player, Humphers said.
“When people realize how far he’s come, and the path he’s taken, it’s really exciting.”
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