Austin Park made it official six years after moving with his family from Seoul, South Korea, to the United States.
Last year, on the day he officially became a U.S. citizen, Park changed his first name from Tang-Chi to Austin, the moniker he had adopted when he enrolled at Glendale High in 1983.
“You know that ‘Six Million Dollar Man’? Steve Austin? We had that (television) program back in Korea,” Park said. “I watched that show and was really into it.”
Physically, Park bears little resemblance to his super-hero namesake, who was portrayed by Lee Majors.
But there are those--including USC football Coach Larry Smith--who believe Park has something akin to a bionic will.
How else to explain why Park--all of 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds--daily subjects himself to the physical punishment that comes with being a walk-on player on the USC football team?
Park, 24, is a senior kicker and wide receiver in his second season with the Trojans.
“It makes me proud to be a member of the USC football team,” Park said after practice last week. “It’s not real easy. I’ve seen a lot of guys who come out and quit right away.”
Park, who played two seasons each at Glendale High and Glendale College, is third on the depth chart at kicker and is a fifth-unit receiver. He has never played a down in a Trojan game and will not be on the sidelines when USC opens its season Friday night against Syracuse in the Kickoff Classic at East Rutherford, N.J.
Park has, however, been a mainstay for USC on the scout offensive team--a group that runs the plays of upcoming opponents against USC’s starting defensive unit.
“Austin is not a guy that’s going to be all-conference,” said Smith, who has led the Trojans to three consecutive Pacific 10 Conference championships. “He’s not a guy that’s going to start or be a backup. He’s a guy that, if we get ahead in a game and it merits it, we’re going to put him in there just because he’s earned it.
“He does figure strongly, though, when we blow the horn during practice and have to get our two scout teams together. He’s going to run every play so he’s a valuable asset and a person that’s contributing as much as someone playing in the game.”
At USC, Park has run up against one of the quickest and most dominant defenses in the nation.
“Every day, you have to be prepared for the hitting or you’re going to get hurt,” Park said. “Those big guys, the outside linebackers and strong safeties, are kind of tough.
“Last week I caught a pass in practice and somebody knocked the hell out of me.”
But Park said he knew what he was getting into when he decided to enlist with the Trojans.
His first exposure to football was via television in Korea.
“They had a channel for the U.S. Army and I’d turn it on on weekends and watch football,” Park recalled. “It looked good with the pads and helmets but I didn’t know anything about the rules.”
After arriving in Glendale with his family, Park said he began to get a feel for the game by playing catch with friends. He decided to go out for the team at Glendale High--not only to play the game but to be in an situation allowing him to practice his English.
Between his junior and senior years in high school, Park attended a kicking camp run by former UCLA kicker John Lee, who is also Korean.
"(Lee) helped me a lot,” Park said. “He had become a great kicker, so I figured I could, too.”
After graduating from high school, Park took a year off from school to help his father’s grocery business in Fullerton. In 1986 and 1987, he was a backup kicker for Glendale College, making two field goals.
Park took another year off to complete his associate of arts degree before enrolling at USC in 1989.
“A lot of my high school friends were surprised that I went out for football at USC,” Park said. “They thought, if you’re Oriental and you played in high school, that was it. They couldn’t even grasp the concept.
“For most Orientals, even if you’re a great player in high school, you just go to college and study.”
As he begins his final season, Park is realistic about his chances of actually playing in a game for the Trojans. He knows it will take a combination of circumstances for him to be on the field at the Coliseum for a snap.
“Before I came to USC, kicking the winning field goal in the Rose Bowl was my ultimate goal,” Park said. “Now my goal is to play in a game, to be on the field for a kickoff, as a receiver, anything.”