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April 08, 2013 08:30 AM

For Luke Bryan, who burst into tears when his name was announced, being named entertainer of the year at Sunday’s 48th annual Academy of Country Music Awards wasn’t just big. It was BIG.

“You know, your life flashes before you,” Bryan, who also served as the Las Vegas event’s co-host, with Blake Shelton, tells PEOPLE.

“Everything – the years to get there, the loading up amps in trucks, and even the move to Nashville and then driving back to Georgia and playing little bars and then the record deal and watching your fan base grow and watching people start to love what you do.”

Continued the Leesburg, Ga., native, 36, breathlessly: “It all flashes before you. You see all that and you want to say and thank everybody. And you think of all the sacrifices – I got 30 to 40 people on the road with me and they’re gone from their families too, and they are celebrating, too.”

• For a complete list of winners, click here.

On a personal level, Bryan told PEOPLE, “I just feel I’m blessed and lucky to be here. At any point in my life, one thing could have sent me down another path, and I wouldn’t have moved to Nashville. So every second in this business, I’m going to take it with a smile and enjoy it.”

Still taking in his victory, the Tailgates & Tanlines musician – who vied in the top category along with Shelton, Jason Aldean, Taylor Swift and the evening’s biggest winner, with four awards, Miranda Lambert – said of the acknowledgment from his peers, “To have the country community pulling for me is just so special to me.”

So, to celebrate? Not so fast. “I have obligations!” he noted. “I’ve got to do Tim McGraw‘s thing tomorrow, so I have to think about my voice. You don’t want to party all night and sound like a bullfrog tomorrow. We’ll do the all-star jam and go to the Capitol [Records, his label since 2007] party and then wake up going, ‘Wow.’ It’s crazy. My whole family feels really blessed.”

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