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NFL taking notice of Younghoe Koo's special season

The Atlanta Falcons kicker is the league's top scorer, having converted 32 of 33 field goal attempts.
Image: Younghoe Koo
Younghoe Koo of the Atlanta Falcons kicks a point after touchdown during a game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on October 11, 2020 in Atlanta, Ga.David J. Griffin / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images file

The NFL honored Younghoe Koo on Friday, naming the Korean-born Atlanta Falcons kicker its NFC special teams player of the month for his nearly perfect season so far.

And about 48 hours after receiving the honor, Koo connected on all three of his field-goal attempts against the New Orleans Saints, making him 32-for-33 on the season.

With those 32 field goals and 23 extra points, Koo woke up Monday morning having scored 119 points, top in the NFL. Koo had now made 24 field goals, with his only miss coming all the way back in Week 3.

"I'll enjoy all that stuff once the season is over it," Koo said of the honor on Friday. "I know it's not just me. The coach has to trust me to put me out there."

Koo also credited the team's long snapper, Josh Harris, and ball holder, Sterling Hofrichter, "so shout out to those guys for making my job easier."

Koo, 26, has made the most of this strange NFL season, with games being played in front of sparse crowds or no fans at all, as the nation struggles to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Koo insisted that lining up for a 50-yarder is the same routine for him — whether he's doing it in front of 70,000 screaming fans or inside an empty stadium.

"It's little different, but not in the sense of what I have to do," Koo said.

"A lot of it for us is visualization because there are only limited reps that we can get in a game or live situations. So I try to visualize that in the offseason or even if it's practice, that we have the mindset, 'Let's make this a game winner' every time, so that when I'm out there it's the same kick every time."

The son of a college professor and a nurse, Koo was born in Seoul and came to the United States at 12. He grew up in Ridgewood, New Jersey, before attending Georgia Southern University.

This breakout season followed a rough 2017 when the Los Angeles Chargers cut him midseason and he spent 2018 unemployed before signing with the Falcons last year.

"I still remember those feelings (of being cut), that's going to be the fire in me to be the best version of me whenever I can," he said. "The experience with the Chargers in my rookie season was really a great experience for me as a kicker and as a person. That taught me a lot on how to navigate my energy and what to focus on."

Koo got back on the radar of NFL scouts and special team coordinators with an impressive showing at a 2018 combine operated by kicking guru Gary Zauner.

"I'm very happy for him. His hard work and determination, it was just a matter of time before someone was going to give him a shot," Zauner told NBC News on Friday. “He came in and won my competition. He beat some of the best guys."

Before his rookie season with the Chargers, Koo was best known for a wild trick shot that's gained nearly 2 million views on his Twitter feed.

With the ball sitting flat on its long side, Koo chipped it to stand on a tip before smashing it with a head-over-heels kick, sending it through the uprights.

That kind of football wizardry has helped Koo master the lost art of the onside kick, a low-percentage, late-game play employed by teams desperate to get the ball back on offense.

The ball has to go at least 10 yards and is generally kicked with a radically abnormal spin or high bounce so it eludes opponents and can be recovered by teammates.

Only 11 such plays have been pulled off successfully last season and so far this season, and Koo has been responsible for three of them.