Younghoe Koo had never heard of the NFL when he arrived in the United States from South Korea in 2006.
In fact, he never knew the sport even existed.
Koo remembers seeing the weird shaped ball during recess one day shortly after his family moved to New Jersey. Some new friends urged him to join in that fateful day in sixth grade, punting and kicking off in a friendly game of two-hand touch. Little did he know that set in motion a series of events that one day led him to the Los Angeles Chargers.
“I didn’t even know what a football looked like when I moved here,” Koo laughed following his first practice of rookie mini camp. “I grew up playing soccer, basketball and baseball. Football I thought was the same kicking motion as soccer or kickball. It’s a little different, but it was still kicking.”
Now, 11 years after seeing a football for the first time, Koo aims to follow in the footsteps of John Lee, Kyle Love and Hines Ward as the latest player born in South Korea to suit up in the NFL.
“Growing up I didn’t know there were Korean football players. I actually had a Korean teammate in college, which is pretty rare. He got picked up by the Cardinals. So yeah, there is pride. I love representing Korea. It’s an honor.”
Opportunity led Koo’s family to the United States to pursue his mother’s career as a nurse. While he didn’t know the sport existed until that school-yard game of two-hand touch, it eventually led to opportunities he never could have imaged. Koo’s prowess on the field led to numerous scholarship offers, eventually ending with him attending Georgia Southern.
“Kicking was something I was just good at,” he explained. “Football is something I fell in love with. I was choosing between James Madison and Georgia Southern. Georgia Southern actually came into the picture late. I thought Virginia was going to be the furthest south I’d go, but then Georgia Southern called. My parents and I took a visit. It felt like home, and they welcomed me.”
It was a wise choice as he eventually became school’s first FBS All-American, earning third-team honors in 2016. Koo was a first-team All-Sun Belt pick a year ago, ranking second in the country in field goal percentage as he made on 19 of 20 attempts. Koo set Georgia Southern’s all-time record for career field goal percentage (88.6%), connecting on 31 of 35 attempts.
Despite his success in college, Koo is probably more well known as an internet sensation after a trick-shot video of him kicking a field goal while doing backflip went viral.
“I did that in high school. That summer a bunch of kickers were doing trick shots, and I just put two and two together. We had a lot of time during practice, so I was just messing around. I wasn’t expecting (the publicity).”
Still, it’s his success on the field and not his viral video that caused the Bolts to reach out to Koo as an undrafted free agent.
“I was speechless when I got that phone call. I was beyond excited. I had some workouts with the Falcons and Miami. I was actually talking with Miami the most. But then the Chargers called, and I was speechless. I’m honored to get this chance. You can count on me to do my best out there, and make the best out of the opportunity.”
Koo is also grateful to have the chance to learn from Special Teams Coordinator-Assistant Head Coach George Stewart. After all, he boasts 30 years of NFL coaching experience as a stalwart in the league.
“He’s been doing this for long time. He has so much knowledge that I am trying to soak it all in and pick his brain. I’m trying to develop my game. It’s been awesome the last couple days to work with him. Being a kicker is all about making the best out of the opportunities you get. The coach puts you out there to make field goals, so you have to make them. This is all I could ask for. It’s what I’ve been dreaming for since I was young. To get this opportunity; I’m pumped. I’m excited just to show what I can do.”