Rookie Younghoe Koo wins Chargers kicking competition, continuing his fantastic story

NFL teams had to reduce their rosters from the training camp limit of 90 players to 53 on Saturday, meaning a lot of players saw their dreams dashed. There will be dozens more moves made in the days ahead as teams pick up a player or two who was let go by a different club.

But a lot of players see their dreams come true on this day. One of them is a most unlikely NFL player, a 5-foot-9, South Korean born former soccer standout who didn’t really learn how to speak English until he was 12 years old.

Meet Younghoe Koo.

A decade after coming to the United States from South Korea and picking up football as a way to make friends, Younghoe Koo is the Chargers kicker. (AP)

Koo, an All-Sun Belt Conference kicker at Georgia Southern, moved to New Jersey with his family in sixth grade. In a profile by the Bergen Record’s Tara Sullivan just after signing with the Los Angeles Chargers as an undrafted rookie, Koo says his first weeks at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, N.J. were lonely – he didn’t understand the customs or the language, and worst of all, he didn’t have any friends.

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But sports became his path to solving all of those problems.

He’d played soccer in South Korea, but tried American football, where he could put those skills to work as a kicker, though he also was an all-county defensive back at Ridgewood High, grabbing six interceptions as a senior.

Koo made 6-of-8 field goals as a senior, and also converted all 32 extra point tries; in his career at the school, he put 47 of 50 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. He was offered a scholarship to play at Georgia Southern.

While there, he made this video of a trick shot, which has since gone viral:


As a senior at Georgia Southern, Koo lined up for 20 field goals and made all but one (his miss was from 54 yards), and also made 28-of-29 extra points. He was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation’s best kicker, and a third-team All-American.

When the Chargers signed Koo, they already had Josh Lambo on the roster. Lambo was the Chargers’ kicker in 2015 and 2016, but both seasons he was 26-for-32 on field goals (81.3 percent), and missed eight total extra points.

Koo beat out Lambo, who was released on Saturday. He is the fourth South Korean-born player in NFL history, following kicker John Lee, who was with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1986, former Steelers star Hines Ward (his mother is Korean), and current Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kyle Love, whose father was stationed in the country with the Army when he was born.

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