Chargers kicker Younghoe Koo is NFL’s latest Korean-born player – Orange County Register

COSTA MESA — You can count them all on one hand.

There is John Lee, an All-America kicker at UCLA whose NFL career lasted 11 games. There is Hines Ward, the five-time Pro Bowl receiver who spent the first months of his life in Seoul. There is Kyle Love, the Panthers defensive tackle whose father was a U.S. Army colonel once stationed in South Korea.

The Chargers have made Younghoe Koo the newest member of this small club. On Saturday, they added the rookie kicker to their 53-man active roster — and in doing so, pushed the all-time list of Korean-born NFL players up to four.

For Koo, who immigrated to New Jersey just before middle school, the journey has been dizzying. A stranger to football when he arrived on American shores, he picked up the game during a lunch recess in seventh grade. At Ridgewood High, he also became an all-county defensive back — relishing those duties even though his future lay in kicking.

Eventually, he earned a scholarship to Georgia Southern, becoming a Lou Groza Award finalist as well as the school’s first-ever FBS All-American. He went undrafted, as most kickers do, but got himself on the scouting radar. In late April, the Chargers signed him to compete with incumbent starter Josh Lambo — only 81.3 percent on field-goal attempts in the last two seasons.

And this past Saturday, while eating lunch, Koo got the call from special teams coach George Stewart. He’d made the team.

“Amazing,” Koo said. “I don’t really know how to put it into words, really. I don’t even know how to describe my feelings at that moment. It’s sunk in a little more. All kinds of emotions hit me. But after a few hours, it sunk in.”

Perhaps it was destiny. The Chargers have now signed at least one undrafted rookie to their active roster in 21 consecutive seasons. They did so this year in a flurry, keeping Koo along with running back Austin Ekeler (Western State Colorado), tight end Sean Culkin (Missouri), and linebackers Nigel Harris (South Florida) and James Onwualu (Notre Dame).

Koo hasn’t had time to celebrate with his parents yet. His father, Hyungseo Koo, is a professor at Induk University in Seoul. His mother, Seungmin Choi, is a nurse in Georgia. Theirs is a sprawling immigrant experience, spread across a 15-hour time difference.

But in another sense, he’ll hardly be alone. The Greater Los Angeles Area is home to more than 200,000 Korean immigrants, the largest such diaspora in the United States. At least some of them…

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