It's not all that often that a football player on a one-win team grabs notice and recognition from opposing coaches.
And, when most first see or get to know Glendale High's Alex Yoon, it's unlikely that the 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior with a 4.0-plus grade-point average would strike many as a football player in general, much less one that would grab attention or accolades.
But then …
"He puts the pads on and everything changes," says Nitros senior quarterback Evan Norton.
For the past two seasons, Yoon – currently Glendale's starting running back and cornerback — has been the Nitros' most consistent and dangerous weapon. While junior receiver Michael Davis has grabbed attention with his blinding speed and prototypical size, Yoon, to hear it directly from the mouths of Nitros, is the engine needed to make the Glendale offense run.
"The offense is all built around Yoon," Nitros Coach Alan Eberhart says. "He's the guy that I want to touch the ball the most. He has the ability to make the biggest plays."
After being brought up late in the 2009 season to varsity to play outside linebacker, Yoon took over quarterbacking duties for the Nitros shortly before his junior season in 2010 when Norton went down with an injury. While Yoon would be the first to tell you his throwing arm didn't strike fear in opposing defenses, his legs surely did.
"He likes to drag people with him," Norton says. "He's a strong runner and he's fast and explosive. He'll go head up with you. I think he earns respect from that."
Yoon rushed for 749 yards and nine touchdowns to complement 404 passing yards and two scores through the air. His performance earned him first-team All-Pacific League honors for a Glendale team that finished 1-9 and 1-6 in league.
"I was honestly surprised," Yoon says. "I didn't actually think that coaches thought of me. I felt pretty honored."
With Norton healthy entering the 2011 season and a deep threat in Davis to throw to, Yoon was moved back to running back, where he had played as a freshman and sophomore. And Yoon was the weapon Eberhart envisioned him to be at the onset. In the Nitros' season-opening 20-6 nonleague win over league archrival Hoover, Yoon torched the Tornadoes for 164 yards on the ground.
Together, Yoon, Davis and Norton put up big individual numbers seemingly game after game, climaxing with a nailbiting 47-46 loss to Pasadena in which Yoon produced more than 100 yards rushing and receiving.
"That was the last big game that he had those kind of numbers," Eberhart says.
Since then, an ankle injury has plagued Yoon — and therefore the Nitros — causing him to play sparingly over the last four games, including being held out of a loss to Arcadia.
"It's really frustrated him and us," Eberhart says.
Yoon returned after the Arcadia game to play against Crescenta Valley, but was still not at 100%, as the bum ankle has hampered any lateral movement and slowed him a bit.
"It has been tough, he's taken it kinda hard," says Glendale center Gagik Gabrielyan. "Not having him because of the injury the last four games has really hurt us."
After a 70-34 loss to Burroughs in which Yoon eclipsed 100 yards rushing and led the team receiving, the injury worsened and Glendale's production waned, as it's scored but 13 total points over its last three games.
"This year we haven't been able to feature him, he's had all these nagging injuries that have prevented him from realizing his potential," Eberhart says. "I still think he's an all-league player."
Whether he is voted as such obviously remains to be seen, but dealing with adversity as it relates to the football field is nothing new for Yoon and the Nitros during his four seasons donning a Glendale uniform.
During the three years he's been a part of the varsity roster – albeit for a small duration as a sophomore – the Nitros have totaled just three wins against 26 losses. But the hardships aren't just on the field, as Glendale has struggled to get players and struggled to keep players. With the losses, fan interest has remained lackluster – aside from the annual "Battle for the Victory Bell" finale against Hoover – and criticism on campus is certainly prevalent.
"It's been hard to go through all the criticism," Yoon says. "The kids at our school don't really understand how hard football is until they try it out and then they quit. We know how tough it is."
Never having played football before his freshman year, Yoon decided to give the sport a try and took a liking to it from the start, showcasing a stellar all-around skill set.
"He's got all the intangibles," Eberhart says. "He's smart, he's tough and he's obviously athletic."
Coupled with that, Yoon has showcased the intangibles that Eberhart is so fond of – on and off the field.
"He's gonna give you his all, that's just how he is," Eberhart says. "He wants to do everything the best. Everything he does is that way."
Hence, despite all the tribulations that have accompanied his times as a Nitro, Yoon's dedication has never waned, in fact, it's grown. So much so that his family has become a vital part of the program.
"His mom is our one-woman booster club," Eberhart says. "She's a wonderful lady. You can see why Alex is the guy he is."
Just like Yoon, his parents never followed football, or sports at large, before Glendale, but that's all changed.
"Ever since [my freshman year], I don't think they've missed a game," Yoon says.
Yoon has done his best not to miss any, too. But not everything has gone as planned this season, obviously. Still, Yoon is unchanged in his dedication for Glendale football and doesn't look back with regrets.
"Looking back, it zoomed by pretty fast," Yoon says. "It honestly teaches you not to give up on anything. You just gotta fight through it."
It's that attitude and example that's been just as valuable to the Nitros as the running back's physical skills.
"Off the field, he's a little less intense," Gabrielyan says. "On the field, he's always fired up, he's always trying to get us to work hard. On the field, he pushes us."
Yoon tries to push himself in every endeavor it seems, thus it's translated to the football field over the last four years and certainly left an impression.
"I would consider him extremely well-rounded," Norton says. "He works hard in everything he does, he doesn't slack off in anything and he's committed, he'll never give up on anything.
"He's never waned, he's always been committed [to the team]. All Alex tries to do is help the team."
With hopes that his excellence in the classroom will take him to USC in the fall, Yoon has come to the conclusion that his football days won't carry on into college. Thus, amid all the hype and ballyhoo that comes with annual "Battle for the Victory Bell" tonight, Yoon will take center stage in the hopes of showing his skills, his dedication and his commitment to his Nitros for one final night.
"I just want to go out there and play my best, cause it's my last game," Yoon says, "and I'll play it like it is."