Like probably a lot of people, I discovered Chargers kicker Younghoe Koo late in my fantasy football draft a couple weeks ago as the last round ticked away and I finally looked at available kickers. I had never heard of him, which is rare at a position that experiences little turnover for most teams. Many more people will be introduced to him Monday night when the Chargers visit the Broncos and Koo makes his regular season debut.
Koo is worth getting to know. Foremost is the fact that he’s just the fourth Korean-born player to play in the NFL, following in the footsteps of current Patriots defensive tackle Kyle Love, Steelers great Hines Ward, and former Cardinals kicker John Lee.
Second is that Koo is really, really good. Here’s him doing something you may have seen:
That video went viral while Koo was at Georgia Southern, but he’s much more than his one early brush with internet stardom. He was one of the best kickers in college football last season, when he made 19 of 20 field goal attempts (missing only a 54-yarder) to be named a finalist for the Lou Groza Award as the best kicker in college football.
Koo was also named a third-team All-American, making him Georgia Southern’s first All-American since it became an FBS program in 2013. Now he’s the Chargers’ starting kicker after being signed as an undrafted free agent and beating out incumbent Josh Lambo.
Get to know his name, because he could be kicking in the NFL for a loooong time.
First off, his first name is pronounced like “Young-Way”
Hope that helps.
Koo moved to the United States when he was 12, and football helped him acclimate
Koo didn’t even know what a football looked like until 2006, but he was an excellent soccer play growing up in Seoul. When he moved with his mother to Ridgewood, New Jersey, he spoke almost no English and had no idea where to begin to make friends. He was invited to join in playing two-hand touch during seventh grade recess, and liked the game so much he signed up for tackle. He made his first friends that way:
“Definitely it was lonely, but I didn’t know at first how to change it. You don’t know who to call, how to say, ‘can we go hang out,’ how to approach that here. ... One day, with about five of my teammates, I got up the courage to say I’m bored all the time. I guess I was fed up enough, looking for something to do. After that they were laughing, they understood what I was saying. I just had to say some words. Then they called me to hang out.”
Georgia Southern was one of just two schools to offer Koo
Statesboro probably isn’t the first place that a first-generation immigrant living in New Jersey would think to go to college. But only GSU and James Madison University in Virginia offered Koo despite his impressive high school resume — he was named team MVP his senior year, and led the defense with six interceptions as a cornerback.
In a video for GSU, Koo explained that though Georgia Southern offered late, it felt like home when he visited the school with his parents.
If it sounds like Koo picked up a Southern twang, that’s not a coincidence
New Jersey may have been Koo’s first home away from South Korea, but he prides himself on his ability to adapt to any situation — an important trait to have as both an immigrant and a kicker. He had no problem getting used to Georgia.
“My girlfriend tells me she doesn’t know what I am, doesn’t know what accent I have,” Koo said, laughing. “I’m accustomed to just adapting to everything that’s been thrown my way. Being in a different culture entirely made me pick up everything along the way. I don’t really notice it, but when I went to New Jersey and I’m saying ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘no ma’am,’ I know it’s been a fun journey.”
Koo was part of the GSU team that upset Florida ... except he almost blew it
Georgia Southern’s upset win over Florida in 2013 — in GSU’s last season as an FCS team — is one of the most memorable upsets in college football history. Among the many treasures it gave us was that one time two Florida players blocked each other on the same play.
Koo played in that game as a true freshman, but the outing was almost a disaster. He shanked two extra point attempts during a game in which Florida lost by six. The Gators had the ball at the GSU 17-yard line during the final seconds of the game, but the Eagles’ defense turned them over on downs to preserve a historic win and save Koo from embarrassment.
After that game, Koo would go on to make 26 of his next 29 field goal attempts.
Now he’s playing in a city with the largest Korean community in the United States
An estimated 200,000 Korean immigrants live in the Los Angeles area. If he does go on to become an NFL star, there may be no better place for him to be. He got there by way of South Korea, New Jersey, and Georgia.
He already has internet impersonators
I don't have instagram tho pic.twitter.com/cwfVIyNkjP— Younghoe Koo (@YounghoeKoo) September 4, 2017
(Oh, and he finally got Instagram).