HENRYETTA — Troy Aikman has no idea what would have happened if his family hadn't moved from Southern California to Henryetta the summer before he was in eighth grade.
But Aikman is convinced that if his family didn't move it's doubtful he would be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which honored Aikman Tuesday at Henryetta High School as part of its “Hometown Hall of Famers” program.
As a kid growing up in Cerritos, Calif., Aikman lived in the shadows of the Knott's Berry Farm amusement park. He rode his bike everywhere. His goal was to become a professional athlete. His first love was baseball.
“If we had stayed in California I'm sure I would have pursued a baseball career,” Aikman said. “I was pretty good, but who knows how far I would have gone.”
A shortstop and pitcher, Aikman was disappointed when his family moved halfway across the country in the summer of 1979 to live on a 170-acre ranch seven miles outside of Henryetta. Chores included tending horses, cattle, chickens, goats and pigs.
“That was a lifestyle that was foreign to me,” Aikman said. “It helped teach me to embrace the difficult times. No one, I don't care who it is, never goes through life and not have some setbacks.”
Late that first summer in Oklahoma, Aikman's father asked Troy if he had signed up for the football team.
“I wasn't going to play, but football was his favorite sport,” Aikman said. “If he hadn't said anything, I'm convinced I wouldn't have played football that year, probably would not have played football again. Not wanting to disappoint him, I went down to the same field house that's here today and signed up.”
Henryetta never won much, but Aikman was so talented he received tons of offers. He signed with Oklahoma. A pocket passer, Aikman felt out of place in a Wishbone program. He transferred to UCLA, leading the Bruins to a 20-4 record, finishing third in the Heisman race in 1988.
A decade after his family moved to Henryetta, Dallas drafted Aikman No. 1 overall.
A six-time Pro Bowler, Aikman helped lead the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles.
On Tuesday, Aikman told an auditorium full of students that Henryetta was instrumental in his journey.
“The person that I ultimately have become, things that helped me do some things I've done athletically were really shaped here in this town,” Aikman said. “I learned about hard work. I learned about integrity. I learned about character. I learned about your word meaning something.
“In the process of all that it was supported by this wonderful community. I've said many times I wish that every child had an opportunity to really experience what I got to experience in a small town. There are a lot of good people here.”
The Hometown Hall of Famers program honors the hometown roots of the sport's greatest players and coaches. Henryetta is the 43rd high school nationally to have one of its former players or coaches honored.
George Veras, president and CEO of Pro Football Hall of Fame Enterprises, presented Aikman with a plaque that will permanently be displayed at Henryetta High School.
“I've been honored more than a person should ever have a right to be honored, I really have,” Aikman said. “I'm appreciative of that. I'm embarrassed by that. But this is not one of those times. This wasn't so much about honoring me as much as honoring Henryetta.”
Aikman told students he hopes the plaque serves as inspiration.
“It's OK to dream,” Aikman said. “If you're willing to pay the price and put in the time and work hard and do the right things those dreams can come true. ... In 1979 I thought, ‘Wow, my dreams have just ended.' Little did I know they didn't end, they were just beginning. ...
“A piece of Henryetta goes with me everywhere I go.”