The journey from S. Korea to Nebraska


Posted Sep 21, 2011


Seung Hoon Choi didn't start playing football until his sophomore season of high school, but the guard has picked up the game pretty quick.


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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP)

A substitute teacher was walking through the library at Lincoln Christian High School when she spotted the new kid, all 6-foot-2 and 320 pounds of him.

"What's your name?" the sub asked.

"Seung," he said.

"Do you play football?" she asked.

"I don't know football," he said in broken English.

"Oh," she said. "You should get to know football."

Thanks to that teacher, who just happened to be the wife of the school's head football coach, Choi's curiosity was piqued. And last Saturday, not quite six years later, Seung Hoon Choi made his first start as an offensive lineman for ninth-ranked Nebraska.

"All of us have taken different paths to get here," linemate Jeremiah Sirles said. "He comes from a complete, whole 'nother world, and now he's starting in America's game. College football is such a big thing, especially here in Nebraska. I think he saw that in high school."

Choi's parents sent him to this country with the belief he would have a better chance at a college education. The family picked Lincoln because an uncle, the brother of Seung's father, had worked at the university as a researcher and lived here with his two children, Seung's cousins.

Seung's older sister, Ju-Youn Choi, preceded him to Lincoln and went on to the University of Washington - the school whose team Choi started against on Saturday.

"Although I am an alum from the University of Washington, I am happier that Huskers got victory," Ju-Youn wrote from South Korea in an email to The Associated Press.

The only words Choi knew upon his arrival in Lincoln were "yes" and "no," and homesickness prompted him to beg his mother, unsuccessfully, to let him to go back to South Korea.

Seung Hoon Choi (pronounced SOON' hoon CHOY) had grown up in a densely populated urban area near Seoul and thought Lincoln would be the same.

"Nothing around Nebraska compared to where I grew up," he said.

He said he couldn't believe U.S. students wore shorts and sweatshirts to class instead of school uniforms. The informality bugged him, he said.

Football took his mind off the culture shock, gave Seung something to focus on and created a circle of friends.

"I thought it was just cool to put a helmet and pads on and hit each other," he said.

Seung joined Lincoln Christian's team as a sophomore, and his formidable size gave him a tremendous advantage over opponents in one of the state's small-school divisions.

Lincoln Christian coach Matt Farup said he simplified the offense for Seung, condensing it to two basic plays - run left, run right.

Seung was the left tackle, so that's the direction the offense ran most times.

"He would push people at the line and send them flying back and be done with them," said Jared McCoskey, who played alongside Seung as the left guard and remains his best friend. "People couldn't get by him."

No college but Nebraska showed interest in Seung. Kevin Cosgrove, the defensive coordinator under former coach Bill Callahan, invited him to the Cornhuskers' summer camp in 2007. After Callahan was fired and Bo Pelini was hired, offensive coordinator Barney Cotton pressed on with the recruitment and asked Seung to walk on.

Sang Ho Choi and Yu Mi Chuwere were proud of their youngest child but had no understanding of what he was getting into, Ju-Youn Choi wrote in her email.

"It is honorable that he can get the chance to stand as an offensive lineman in Huskers team among many athletes," she wrote. "I also appreciate that his high school football coach, Mr. Farup, encouraged him to play."

Seung sat out as a redshirt in 2008 and got into no games in 2009. Last season, as a sophomore, he played only in the opener.

He used the first two years in the program to sculpt his body and build strength. He said he couldn't eat enough hamburgers and pizza when he first came to America. He has lost 30 pounds and now weighs 290.

He saw spot duty in this year's opener against Chattanooga but got no snaps against Fresno State. Seung was named the starter against Washington because of an injury to starting left guard Andrew Rodriguez.

Seung alternated with Brandon Thompson and received good reviews afterward from Cotton and offensive coordinator Tim Beck.

Jermarcus Hardrick, who played next to Seung, said Seung was motivated to give extra effort because one of the Washington defensive linemen kept calling him a "fat Asian."

"I think that guy made it worse for himself," Hardrick said. "I didn't think (Seung) was going to play that good. He was just coming off the ball."

Ju-Youn isn't surprised Seung grew big enough to be a major-college lineman. She said he weighed 8.3 pounds at birth - "quite a big baby in Korea," she wrote - and he loved to eat.

His father, a retired police officer, is barely 5-9. His mom is about 5-3.

"He was a little overweight kiddo in his elementary and middle school years," Ju-Youn wrote. "Well, I think he has a special gene. There are no members of the family who grew to be big. We are on average not too big or not too small."

Seung's family hasn't seen him play yet. They attended a game two years ago and came to appreciate what the sport means to Americans. The Chois plan to come back this fall and hope to see Seung play against Michigan State on Oct. 29.

"When we visited to see Seung's (team) at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln two years ago, we were amazed that it was filled with people who wore red shirts," Ju-Youn wrote.

Undoubtedly, Seung's biggest fans in Lincoln are Marshall and Roxane McCoskey, parents of Jared. Seung lived with the McCoskeys the second half of his senior year at Lincoln Christian and visits them at their home every weekend. He calls almost daily.

Roxane, whom Seung calls his "American mom," and Marshall wore No. 77 jerseys to last week's game, and Roxane said she cried when Seung stepped onto the field for his first play.

Marshall said he's prouder of how Seung has developed off the field. Seung has become a strong Christian and remained humble as he as achieved success.

"He's driven to be the best at what he does," Marshall said. "He does it with all his heart but he doesn't ever brag about it. My tendency would be to say, 'Look at me, I'm starting for the Huskers.'

"You know he loves it but he doesn't want to be prideful or boastful like so many athletes are. He's just not the norm."


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