Don’t Stop Believin’

Former Eagle Kicker Overcomes Adversity to Make it in the NFL

Younghoe Koo (’17) came to Ridgewood, New Jersey, from South Korea having never touched a football. Last year, he signed mid-season as a kicker with the Atlanta Falcons, becoming one of only four Korean-born NFL players.

How did he get from South Korea to the NFL? It’s quite a story.

Koo spent his childhood years in South Korea playing soccer, primarily, but when he moved to the U.S. as a sixth grader, his new friends convinced him to try football. Koo joined the seventh grade football team and played through high school. At Ridgewood High, Koo was a First-Team All-Big North League kicker all four years. He scored 151 points in his kicking game, and as a senior, he was 32 for 32 in points after touchdowns with six field goals and a long of 41 yards.

It was no wonder Georgia Southern came calling.

“Coach [Jeff] Monken came to my high school to recruit me,” said Koo. “And when I visited Georgia Southern, it just felt right. Everything felt like home. And I felt wanted more than anything.”

As an Eagle, Koo put together one of the greatest kicking seasons in University history. He became the program’s first FBS All-American (3rd team) and a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, college football’s top kicking honor. Koo led the Eagles in scoring with 85 points and set a school record for field goal percentage with an 88.6.

Koo’s football career had been progressing without a hitch, then it hit a rough patch. Going undrafted in the 2017 NFL draft, he was picked up by the San Diego Chargers and named starting kicker, but was cut after only four games.

He didn’t just sit around feeling sorry for himself, however. Koo trained with John Carney, the legendary NFL kicker, for a year-and-a-half.

How did Koo stay motivated during that time?

“I really believed that if I just took it day by day and focused on improving each day and just working on myself, whenever the opportunity came, I knew I would be ready,” he said.

And Koo was ready. In January 2019, he signed with the Atlanta Legends for what turned out to be the sole season of Alliance of American Football (AAF). When the league ceased operations in April 2019, Koo was a perfect 14-of-14 on field goals.

Koo’s AAF success led him back to the NFL and he was signed by the Falcons last October, where he made an indelible impression. He was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance in his first game against New Orleans, and repeated the feat a week later. Most notably, Koo made the most field goals in the NFL (23) from week 10 through the end of the regular season. He showed an uncanny ability at on-side kicks as well, kicking three in one game, and even catching his own kickoff after a Panthers’ fumble.

Unsurprisingly, this March, Koo was re-signed for the 2020 season — validation for a player who never stopped believing.

“Some players might think that coming from Georgia Southern, they’ll be overlooked by the NFL,” said Koo. “But guys from Georgia Southern have been making it. You just have to take it day by day and trust in yourself.”

—Liz Walker