Korean-born kicker Younghoe Koo is trying to stick with Chargers
The football shot through the air and through the uprights on the Chargers’ first day of rookie minicamp, with Younghoe (pronounced Young-way) Koo briefly posing, his left foot planted and his right foot in the air.
This is what a kicker looks like.
But Koo, an undrafted free agent out of Georgia Southern, isn’t concerned with conventional appearances.
He moved to America from South Korea before the sixth grade, not knowing the language or what the leather oblong bag stitched together by laces was. The strange object made its way into Koo’s hands one afternoon at recess, and Koo sent it soaring with a booming punt. His classmates knew they were on to something.
“They were like, ‘You should come out and play,’ ” Koo said. “That’s how I got into it.”
Now, he’s trying to become one of only a handful of Korean-born players to make it to the NFL.
“I love representing,” he said.
From those New Jersey playgrounds to a high school career where he was also an all-conference defensive back, Koo moved on to Georgia Southern, where he defied conventions in another way.
Despite putting together an impressive collegiate career where he made 26 of 29 field-goal tries, his most famous kick came without a helmet or pads on. Koo became a bit of an Internet sensation while at Georgia Southern after ESPN aired video of his No. 1 trick shot.
The kick begins with the ball motionless on the field. Using his feet, Koo popped the ball up onto its nose, spinning.
That trick, Koo said, came from the idle hours kickers and punters spend while the rest of the team goes through drills.
“We could all do that,” he said. “Obviously, we can’t kick for two or three hours straight when we practice. We have a lot of time to just kind of mess around. We were all trying different stuff, warming up and I thought, ‘Why not try it?’
The “it” here is what earned Koo some Internet fame.
While in high school, Koo saw a viral video of a soccer player making a penalty kick, striking the ball before landing a backflip. He immediately went outside to try it.
A star, in a sense, was born.
“When we put it up [online], we didn’t know it was going to blow up like that,” Koo said. “Somebody put it up, and my friends back at home in New Jersey called me at midnight and told me I was on ‘SportsCenter.’ ”
The next day, Koo was sitting in a barber’s chair when he saw the kick air again on ESPN.
The Chargers didn’t agree to a deal with the kicker moments after the completion of the draft because of the flip kick — that’s merely a parlor trick. The team, instead, signed Koo because of accuracy and ability, in his words, to be good from 60 yards in game situations.
ESPN’s draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. listed Koo among other undrafted free agents with the best chances to make NFL rosters.
The Chargers are in desperate need for improvements on special teams. Coach Anthony Lynn hired George Stewart to lead the unit, and Lynn said every position, including kicker, is up for grabs.
The incumbent, Josh Lambo, has missed six field-goal tries in each of his two seasons with the team, including all three of his chances from 50 yards or more last season. He also missed four extra-point tries.
And although he led the NFL with 67 touchbacks, Lambo had two kickoffs go out of bounds, and he found himself in a little trouble with his teammates after television cameras caught him laughing as he walked off the field after a Week 5 loss in Oakland.
“Every position out here is a competition,” Lynn said.
And, Koo, who had never been in California before the start of rookie camp, is ready to battle.
“To get a chance, this opportunity, to showcase what I can do on a NFL team, it’s a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was young, just picturing it. For me to be on a team and be able to kick in front of the coaches. … I can’t ask for anything more than that.”
During Friday’s practice, the only one open to media during rookie minicamp, Koo drilled kick after kick — no flips — while Chargers general manager Tom Telesco studied him from multiple angles.
It was the first big chance of his professional career.
“Opportunity is all I can ask for as a kicker,” Koo said.
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