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Younghoe Koo: How Atlanta Falcons kicker overcame language barrier and being lower to thrive within the NFL

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Now, Koo is the second-highest paid kicker within the league having signed a five-year contract extension with the Atlanta Falcons earlier this 12 months.

But it hasn’t all been clean crusing for the South Korean native.

Despite a collegiate profession with Georgia Southern during which he transformed a workforce report 88.6% of his area aim makes an attempt and was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award for the nation’s finest kicker, Koo went undrafted in 2017 and signed a free agent contract with the Los Angeles Chargers shortly after.

He shortly impressed, successful the beginning function in preseason over incumbent kicker Josh Lambo, however a long-term place within the workforce proved elusive.

“I felt like I made it my rookie 12 months once I received the job going into Week One. I used to be like: ‘Oh, that is it, I did it,’ you recognize? The subsequent 4 weeks, I used to be lower,” Koo tells CNN Sport’s Coy Wire.

It was this second early in his profession that taught the then-23-year-old rookie about life within the NFL.

“It taught me that is by no means over. You gotta compete each single day. You gotta produce; it is a manufacturing enterprise. That’s what the pinnacle coach advised me once I was getting launched. That was a giant studying expertise for me.”

Younghoe Koo faces the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in November 2019.

With nowhere else to go, Koo was compelled to show to fairly acquainted environment — someplace he didn’t assume he would ever discover himself once more.

“When I ran out of cash with the Chargers, I moved again dwelling to my mother and that is if you’re simply ready for a cellphone name, ready for a exercise,” he says.

“And when it comes it is like: ‘Oh yeah, good. I’m able to go.’ Then there goes [the] offseason [and] two or three months go by [and] no cellphone name comes: ‘What am I doing with my life?'”

Football gamers, and athletes normally, are notably conditioned to all the time having their every day actions deliberate for them, whether or not or not it’s movie examine, meals or coaching. Without that, Koo misplaced his sense of route.

“I assume my soccer profession, like highschool, faculty after which attending to the Chargers, I all the time had one thing to do, on a workforce. You nearly really feel empty as a result of [when] you get up, no person’s telling you something,” Koo says.

Connecting with fellow NFL free brokers helped him to regain that sense of workforce ethos and construction he missed.

“I realized so much. I wasn’t the one one going via it. It was nearly therapeutic for me to go to exercises [with] guys which might be going via the identical stuff and we’re competing but additionally sharing our journeys,” Koo explains.

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He credit these moments of early adversity with serving to him grow to be knowledgeable and a good higher scholar of the sport, though he says he nonetheless has much more to be taught as his profession progresses.

“Coming out of school, I felt like I knew all the things, however [in] actuality, I did not know something,” Koo says.

“I made a decision to drop that ego [and] ask questions. I needed to be taught, I needed to see what went unsuitable, and really quickly after that, I noticed I used to be a pet on this enterprise. I needed to preserve asking questions. I bought so much to be taught and a protracted solution to go, clearly.”

He signed his $24.5 million contract with the Falcons in March, formally making him the league’s second-highest paid kicker in complete {dollars}, trailing solely Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker in common annual worth, according to the NFL.

‘Tough’ beginnings

Koo lived in South Korea till the age of 12 earlier than transferring to the United States to attend sixth grade.

“I grew up taking part in soccer for the college workforce. That was actually my fundamental focus. I wasn’t actually nice in class,” he says.

He describes the transition to the United States as “robust,” an expertise that was additional compounded by his lack of English. Koo cites sports activities as a catalyst to studying the language and making buddies in an unfamiliar nation.

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

“I really feel like I picked up English so much faster as a result of I performed sports activities,” Koo says. “I used to be compelled to throw myself on the market and socialize with completely different buddy teams and meet completely different individuals. It undoubtedly bridged that hole for me.”

Koo first discovered soccer through his buddies, who seen his soccer expertise and needed him to punt or kick off of their video games.

“And that is when all people noticed my leg energy as a result of [of] soccer, so kicking got here naturally for me. That’s once I was requested to join soccer and I signed up that summer season.”

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Koo remembers particularly sitting in a automobile with teammates heading to apply sooner or later not even understanding the right way to talk with them.

“I did not know the right way to ask, like: ‘Hey, what do you guys do on the weekends?’ I did not know the right way to phrase that and even kind a sentence at the moment,” Koo explains.

Despite a concern of sounding “silly,” he was capable of muster a phrase that modified his fortunes.

“I bear in mind simply saying, ‘I’m bored,’ and so they had been simply asking [me] questions like: ‘Now? In the automobile going to apply?’ I used to be like: ‘No, no, no, on the weekends.’ So then that weekend they known as me to hang around.”

‘Bulletproof’

As a South Korean immigrant within the United States, Koo says he seen racism rising up however selected to not “reply to it or react to it.” He did not take any racist feedback to coronary heart, understanding everybody has their very own opinions, whether or not legitimate or invalid.

“Everybody has one thing to say. Everybody can say one thing in the event that they wish to. It’s not likely my duty to soak that each one in and take up [it]. I select what I wish to take note of [and] what I do not wish to take note of. I believe that is the mindset that I had once I was youthful as properly,” Koo says.

As for a way he offers with negativity now as one of many NFL’s top-earning kickers, Koo likens it to a weight loss plan the place he chooses which feedback he desires to eat and digest. He says his mindset have to be “bulletproof” when he takes the sphere; adversity from outdoors might harm his efficiency.

Koo kicks off against the Carolina Panthers in October 2021.

“Whether it is coping with racism or whether or not it is coping with adversity, we shank a ball … we gotta go on the market and subsequent time, we bought to now deal with the following snap. That cannot stick with me as a result of it should have an effect on my subsequent kick,” Koo says.

“My dad taught me from a younger age [that] in the event you’re ok, your expertise speaks for itself,” he provides.

And when the kick is within the air, all that issues is the consequence.

“You’re White, Black, Asian or no matter. [The] soccer would not know who’s kicking it. And when the ball’s flying, they do not know who kicked it and so they simply see the outcomes and so they see the ball and so they’re like, ‘Alright, that kick’s good,'” Koo says.

‘Set up a plan and go after it’

Koo understands the place soccer can play on the earth and what his story can imply for the following era of Asian athletes eager to play within the prime American league.

“It’s [something] we talked about so much. It’s a really various group of individuals in that locker room. Everybody comes from completely different locations, backgrounds, households, however all of us have one frequent aim, and we work in the direction of that collectively and that sacrifice to work laborious for not just for your self, [but] for one thing that is larger than you,” Koo displays.

“I believe illustration is huge as a result of, rising up for me in soccer, there was no person that appeared like me. It was more durable for me to visualise, [if] he is doing it, I can do it.

“If you take a look at my story, I did not converse English, I did not know what soccer was. I used to be struggling to say: ‘What are you doing this weekend?’ I believe anyone, if they’ve a dream and simply chase it and work laborious, can arrange a plan and go after it.”

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2022-09-11 10:08:57

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