Kicker Younghoe Koo talks about the opportunity to play in Atlanta. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

Falcons’ Koo found his way from South Korea to the NFL

He was already a fine young soccer player. 

“I didn’t know what football was when I first moved here,” Koo said. “During lunch and recess, they were playing touch football. That’s how I got into it.”

Some future recruiters must have been classmates.

“I kind of punted it and all of the kids were like surprised how far I punted,” Koo said. “They talked me into playing organized football, that’s how I got into playing football.”

He started playing in middle school in New Jersey in the seventh grade. 

“It took a little bit to figure it out because it is a different swing,” Koo said. “But at the end of the day, it was just kicking. Just a different ball. It kind of came naturally to me.”

He wasn’t aware that having a strong leg could led to a college scholarship - and possibly pro football.

“At first, we didn’t know,” Koo said. “My parents didn’t know what football was either. My middle school coach kind of explained to my parents that ‘hey, he has an opportunity here.”

“That’s what kind of let them say, ‘hey, let’s try football.’ ”  

Koo, 25, would go on to play at Ridgewood High in New Jersey and caught the attention of former Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken, who’s now at Army.  

“Coach Monken at the time, came up to my high school and recruited me,” Koo said. “I took a visit to Georgia Southern and fell in love with it. I don’t know what it was, the Southern hospitality or the food maybe. I loved it when I visited there. It was that soul food, I guess.”

The 5-foot-10, 195 pound Koo became the first kicker in Georgia Southern’s history to be named a finalist for the Lou Groza Award. He set a new school record for career field goal percentage, making 31 of 35 (88.6%) and was named to the All-Sun Belt team.

“It was great,” Koo said. “It was fun there. I met a lot of lifelong friends there. It was a great experience.”

After going undrafted in 2017, Koo was signed by the San Diego Chargers and won the opening day job. But after four games, the Chargers cut Koo and replaced him with 10-year veteran Nick Novak. 

Koo elected to stay in the San Diego area and work on his kicking with the legendary John Carney, who kicked in the NFL from 1988-2010. He was 46 when he last kicked in the NFL. 

“I just tired to perfect my craft,” Koo said. “Just working on it every day to get rid of the errors. I stayed out in San Diego and worked with John Carney for a while. That helped a lot learning from a kicker who had been in the league for 23 years. That was a great learning experience for me.”

The phone didn’t immediately ring. 

Koo’s next opportunity came with the Atlanta Legends of the now defunct Alliance of American Football League. 

For the Legends, Koo was a perfect 14-of-14 on his attempts, his longest at 38 yards. 

“That helped because it showed what I’d learned over the last year and a half since the Chargers,” Koo said. “I think that was very good for me.” 

After the league folded, Koo had a tryout with the Chicago Bears before he was signed to the Patriots practice squad on Oct. 14. 

Koo was hopeful that that he’d get another shot in the NFL. 

“I kept believing and working on my craft and what I can control and not the things that I could’t control,” Koo said. “I was just focusing on me.” 

He came in to workout for the Falcons last Monday and was signed. 

“I was just staying ready and was waiting for the next opportunity,” Koo said. “I’ve been waiting for a couple of years now. It was great to get that call.”

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said he felt Koo could kick in the NFL for a long time, but still cut him after the team got off to a 0-4 start. 

“That experience really helped me in terms of staying ready because you know what it’s like in there,” Koo said. “You know what to expect when you get in the games. You know what kind of routine you need to come up with to stay ready for the next opportunity.”

Koo harbors no ill-will toward Lynn or the Chargers.

“That’s the best thing that you can go through as a kicker, that adversity,” Koo said. “You just have to bounce back and learn from it.”

Koo knows that he’s attempting to replace the popular Matt Bryant, who was released after going 2 of 6 on field goals from 50 yards or more and for missing a potential game-tying extra point against Arizona. 

“It’s been easy,” Koo said. “All of these guys have been helpful with kind of getting me used to a new environment, having the bye last week kind of gave me some time to get used to it.” 

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