How South Korean kicker beat the odds to thrive in the NFL

2 weeks ago 61

CNN  — 

From not knowing immoderate English to becoming a starter, Younghoe Koo is 1 of the astir improbable National Football League occurrence stories.

Now, Koo is the second-highest paid kicker successful the league having signed a five-year declaration hold with the Atlanta Falcons earlier this year.

But it hasn’t each been creaseless sailing for the South Korean native.

Despite a collegiate vocation with Georgia Southern successful which helium converted a squad grounds 88.6% of his tract extremity attempts and was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award for the nation’s champion kicker, Koo went undrafted successful 2017 and signed a escaped cause declaration with the Los Angeles Chargers soon after.

He rapidly impressed, winning the starting relation successful preseason implicit incumbent kicker Josh Lambo, but a semipermanent spot successful the squad proved elusive.

“I felt similar I made it my rookie twelvemonth erstwhile I won the occupation going into Week One. I was like: ‘Oh, this is it, I did it,’ you know? The adjacent 4 weeks, I was cut,” Koo tells CNN Sport’s Coy Wire.

It was this infinitesimal aboriginal successful his vocation that taught the then-23-year-old rookie astir beingness successful the NFL.

“It taught maine this is ne'er over. You gotta vie each azygous day. You gotta produce; it’s a accumulation business. That’s what the caput manager told maine erstwhile I was getting released. That was a large learning acquisition for me.”

Younghoe Koo faces the Tampa Bay Buccaneers successful  November 2019.

With obscurity other to go, Koo was forced to crook to alternatively acquainted surroundings – determination helium did not deliberation helium would ever find himself again.

“When I ran retired of wealth with the Chargers, I moved backmost location to my ma and that’s erstwhile you’re conscionable waiting for a telephone call, waiting for a workout,” helium says.

“And erstwhile it comes it’s like: ‘Oh yeah, good. I’m acceptable to go.’ Then determination goes [the] offseason [and] 2 oregon 3 months spell by [and] nary telephone telephone comes: ‘What americium I doing with my life?’”

Football players, and athletes successful general, are peculiarly conditioned to ever having their regular activities planned for them, whether it beryllium movie study, meals oregon training. Without that, Koo mislaid his consciousness of direction.

“I conjecture my shot career, similar precocious school, assemblage and past getting to the Chargers, I ever had thing to do, connected a team. You astir consciousness bare due to the fact that [when] you aftermath up, nobody’s telling you anything,” Koo says.

Connecting with chap NFL escaped agents helped him to regain that consciousness of squad ethos and operation helium missed.

“I learned a lot. I wasn’t the lone 1 going done it. It was astir therapeutic for maine to spell to workouts [with] guys that are going done the aforesaid worldly and we’re competing but besides sharing our journeys,” Koo explains.

He credits those moments of aboriginal adversity with helping him go a nonrecreational and an adjacent amended pupil of the game, though helium says helium inactive has a batch much to larn arsenic his vocation progresses.

“Coming retired of college, I felt similar I knew everything, but [in] reality, I didn’t cognize anything,” Koo says.

“I decided to driblet that ego [and] inquire questions. I wanted to learn, I wanted to spot what went wrong, and precise soon aft that, I realized I was a puppy successful this business. I had to support asking questions. I got a batch to larn and a agelong mode to go, obviously.”

He signed his $24.5 cardinal declaration with the Falcons successful March, officially making him the league’s second-highest paid kicker successful full dollars, trailing lone Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker successful mean yearly value, according to the NFL.

Koo lived successful South Korea until the property of 12 earlier moving to the United States to be sixth grade.

“I grew up playing shot for the schoolhouse team. That was truly my main focus. I wasn’t truly large successful school,” helium says.

He describes the modulation to the United States arsenic “tough,” an acquisition that was further compounded by his deficiency of English. Koo cites sports arsenic a catalyst to learning the connection and making friends successful an unfamiliar country.

Koo kicks a tract  extremity   against the New York Jets past  month.

“I consciousness similar I picked up English a batch quicker due to the fact that I played sports,” Koo says. “I was forced to propulsion myself retired determination and socialize with antithetic person groups and conscionable antithetic people. It decidedly bridged that spread for me.”

Koo archetypal recovered shot via his friends, who noticed his shot endowment and wanted him to punt oregon footwear disconnected successful their games.

“And that’s erstwhile everybody saw my limb spot due to the fact that [of] soccer, truthful kicking came people for me. That’s erstwhile I was asked to motion up for shot and I signed up that summer.”

Koo remembers specifically sitting successful a car with teammates heading to signifier 1 time not adjacent knowing however to pass with them.

“I didn’t cognize however to ask, like: ‘Hey, what bash you guys bash connected the weekends?’ I didn’t cognize however to operation that oregon adjacent signifier a condemnation astatine that time,” Koo explains.

Despite a fearfulness of sounding “stupid,” helium was capable to muster a operation that changed his fortunes.

“I retrieve conscionable saying, ‘I’m bored,’ and they were conscionable asking [me] questions like: ‘Now? In the car going to practice?’ I was like: ‘No, no, no, connected the weekends.’ So past that play they called maine to bent out.”

As a South Korean migrant successful the United States, Koo says helium noticed racism increasing up but chose not to “respond to it oregon respond to it.” He didn’t instrumentality immoderate racist comments to heart, knowing everyone has their ain opinions, whether valid oregon invalid.

“Everybody has thing to say. Everybody tin accidental thing if they privation to. It’s not truly my work to soak that each successful and sorb [it]. I take what I privation to wage attraction to [and] what I don’t privation to wage attraction to. I deliberation that’s the mindset that I had erstwhile I was younger arsenic well,” Koo says.

As for however helium deals with negativity present arsenic 1 of the NFL’s top-earning kickers, Koo likens it to a fare wherever helium chooses which comments helium wants to devour and digest. He says his mindset indispensable beryllium “bulletproof” erstwhile helium takes the field; adversity from extracurricular could wounded his performance.

Koo kicks disconnected  against the Carolina Panthers successful  October 2021.

“Whether it’s dealing with racism oregon whether it’s dealing with adversity, we shank a shot … we gotta spell retired determination and adjacent time, we got to present absorption connected the adjacent snap. That can’t enactment with maine due to the fact that it volition impact my adjacent kick,” Koo says.

“My dada taught maine from a young property [that] if you’re bully enough, your endowment speaks for itself,” helium adds.

And erstwhile the footwear is successful the air, each that matters is the result.

“You’re White, Black, Asian oregon whatever. [The] shot doesn’t cognize who is kicking it. And erstwhile the ball’s flying, they don’t cognize who kicked it and they conscionable spot the results and they spot the shot and they’re like, ‘Alright, that kick’s good,’” Koo says.

Koo understands the spot shot tin play successful the satellite and what his communicative tin mean for the adjacent procreation of Asian athletes wanting to play successful the apical American league.

“It’s [something] we talked astir a lot. It’s a precise divers radical of radical successful that locker room. Everybody comes from antithetic places, backgrounds, families, but we each person 1 communal goal, and we enactment towards that unneurotic and that sacrifice to enactment hard for not lone for yourself, [but] for thing that’s bigger than you,” Koo reflects.

“I deliberation practice is large because, increasing up for maine successful football, determination was cipher that looked similar me. It was harder for maine to visualize, [if] he’s doing it, I tin bash it.

“If you look astatine my story, I didn’t talk English, I didn’t cognize what shot was. I was struggling to say: ‘What are you doing this weekend?’ I deliberation anybody, if they person a imagination and conscionable pursuit it and enactment hard, tin acceptable up a program and spell aft it.”

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