Younghoe Koo: How the Atlanta Falcons kicker overcame the language barrier and was cut to succeed in the NFL

Koo is now the second-highest-paid kicker in the league after signing a five-year contract extension with the Atlanta Falcons earlier this year.

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the South Korean native.

During his college career at Georgia Southern University, he had a team record of 88.6% of field goal attempts and was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award for the nation’s best kicker. The Angels Chargers right after that.

He quickly impressed, holding off incumbent kicker Josh Lambo in the preseason for a starting role, but his long-term stature on the team was elusive.

“I felt like it was my rookie year when I won the job to get into week one. I was like, ‘Oh, this is it. I made it.’ Then in the next four weeks, it was cut.” told Coo CNN Sports carp wire.

It was this moment early in his career that taught the then-23-year-old rookie about life in the NFL.

“It taught me that this is never the end. You have to compete every day. You have to produce. It’s a production business. That’s what the head coach told me when I was released. Like I said, it was a big learning experience for me.”

With nowhere else to go, Koo was forced into a familiar place.

“When the charger ran out of money, I went back to my mother’s house, waiting for the call, waiting for training,” he says.

“When it comes, it’s like, ‘Oh, okay. I’m ready to go.’” Then go there [the] off season [and] 2-3 months pass [and] No “What am I doing with my life?” calls. “

Soccer players and athletes in general should always have their daily activities planned for themselves, such as studying for movies, eating, and training. Without it, Ku was disoriented.

“I think my football career, like high school, college and all the way through to the Chargers, has always required me to do something with the team. [when] You wake up and nobody says anything,” says Ku.

Connecting with fellow NFL free agents helped him regain a sense of team spirit and organization that he had missed.

“I learned a lot. I wasn’t the only one who went through it. Going to work out was almost therapeutic for me. [with] We’re competing with guys going through the same thing, but we’re also sharing our journey,” explains Koo.

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He credits his early moments of adversity with helping him become a professional and a better student of the game, but says he still has a lot to learn as his career progresses.

“I felt like I knew everything when I left college, [in] In fact, I didn’t know anything,” Ku says.

“I decided to let go of that ego [and] ask a question. I wanted to learn and see what went wrong, but soon after I realized I was a pup in this business. . Of course, we have a lot to learn and we still have a long way to go.”

He signed a $24.5 million contract with the Falcons in March, officially making him the league’s second-highest-paid kicker in terms of gross annual gross, behind only Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker. According to the NFL.

“Tough” Beginnings

Koo lived in South Korea until he was 12 years old before moving to the United States for his sixth grade.

“I grew up playing soccer for my school team. That was my main focus. I wasn’t very good at school,” he says.

He describes the move to the US as “hard”, an experience compounded by his lack of English proficiency. Ku cites sports as a way to learn languages ​​and make friends in unfamiliar countries.

Koo scored a field goal against the New York Jets last month.

“I feel like I learned English a lot faster because I was playing sports,” says Ku. “I was forced to put myself out there, interact with different friend groups, and meet different people. It definitely bridged that gap for me.”

Ku first found football through a friend who had noticed his talent for football and wanted him to punt or kick off at the game.

“At that time, everyone saw the strength of my legs, because [of] I used to play soccer, so kicking came naturally. At that time, he was told to sign up for football and signed up that summer. “

The Buffalo Bills claim their Super Bowl aspirations with a 31-10 win over the reigning champions LA Rams in the NFL season opener.

Ku remembers sitting in the car driving to practice one day not even knowing how to communicate with his teammates.

“What are you doing on the weekends?” I didn’t know how to express that at the time, or even how to form a sentence,” explains Koo.

Despite his fear of sounding “stupid,” he was able to collect phrases that would change his fate.

“I remember saying, ‘I’m bored.’ They were just asking. [me] Questions like: “Now? In the car to practice?” I was like, “No, no, no, on the weekend.” So that weekend they called me to hang out. “


As a Korean immigrant living in the United States, Koo says he noticed racism growing, but chose not to “react or react to it.” He knew everyone had their own opinion, so he didn’t take the racist comments to heart.

“Everyone has something to say. Everyone can say what they want. It’s not my responsibility to absorb and absorb it all.” [it]. Picking what you want to focus on [and] What you don’t want to pay attention to. I think he was like that when he was younger too,” says Koo.

Now that he’s one of the NFL’s highest-earning kickers, Koo likens it to a diet where he chooses which comments he wants to eat and digest when it comes to how he deals with negative emotions. He says his mindset should be “bulletproof” when he hits the field. Adversity from the outside can impair his performance.

Ku will face the Carolina Panthers in October 2021.

“Whether it’s dealing with racism or adversity, we shank the ball…we have to go there and next time I have to focus on the snap of my next kick,” says Ku.

“My father taught me from an early age [that] If you’re good enough, your talent speaks for itself,” he adds.

And when the kick is in the air, all that matters is the result.

“You are white, black, Asian, etc. [The] I don’t know who is kicking soccer. When the ball is in the air, they don’t know who kicked it, they just look at the result, they look at the ball and they say, ‘Okay, that kick is good,’” Ku says.

“Plan and execute”

Ku understands where football can be played in the world and what his story means for the next generation of Asian athletes who want to play in the top league of the American League.

“this is [something] we talked a lot. That locker room has a very diverse group of people. Everyone comes from different places, backgrounds, and families, but we all have his one common goal to work towards and work with, not just for ourselves, but [but] For something bigger than myself,” recalls Ku.

“For me, who grew up playing football, no one looked like me, so I think the expression is big. It was hard for me to visualize. [if] He’s doing it, I can do it.

“Looking at my story, I didn’t speak English. I didn’t even know what football was. I had a hard time saying, ‘What are you doing this weekend?’ I think anyone can make a plan and pursue it if they have it and work hard to pursue it.”


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