Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 24, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 SEPT. 24, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED N otre Dame senior Justin Yoon belly laughs and shakes his head in disbelief over his un- awareness when he tried football for the first time not long ago. A high school freshman in 2011 at prestigious Milton Academy in central Massachusetts, Yoon was situated only about 20 miles from Foxborough, Mass., home of the five- time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and their mega-star quarterback, Tom Brady. "Nothing, I was clueless, never heard of Tom Brady," Yoon said, em- barrassingly shocked by his own ig- norance. "I grew up a hockey player, not a football player." Little did the Irish placekicker know that by this time next year, he's almost certain to be the leading point scorer in Notre Dame football history, and perhaps Brady's NFL teammate. For the record, entering the game against Vanderbilt Sept. 15, Yoon had scored 12 points so far this sea- son and 287 points for his career. He needed only 34 points to surpass Notre Dame's current all-time scor- ing leader Allen Pinkett, a two-time All-American running back who tal- lied 320 points from 1982-85. "This from a guy who didn't even know what football was in the eighth grade," marveled Yoon, who also cur- rently holds the Irish career accuracy record with an 80.0 percent success rate (44 of 55) on field goals. "I never knew what was going to come up. I just played sports because it was fun." With athletic genes and a quest for competition, Yoon has held a passion for playing many sports — including hockey, soccer and lacrosse — and helps explain why he was a quick study when it came to kicking a football. His father, Jiseop, was an Olympic figure skater in South Korea. He also coached the 2010 Vancouver Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion Kim Yuna, the first ever woman figure skater from South Ko- rea to claim either title. Yuna also won a silver medal at the 2014 Olym- pics in Sochi, Russia. "My dad is a big proponent of fig- ure skating in Korea," Yoon said. Dad also was a huge proponent of keeping his son active. The younger Yoon shared a story about routinely playing as many as eight games in a variety of sports each weekend as a youngster, and changing back and forth from his soccer to hockey uniforms in the car on his way to the next event. "That was my childhood routine," he said. Yoon — who was born in Cincinnati, spent the first 10 years of his life in South Korea before moving to Nash- ville for five years, and then headed to Massachusetts for four years of prep school — is well traveled, well rounded and forever curious. It was as an eighth-grader at Nash- ville's Harding Academy when the football coach there took notice of Yoon's booming leg during a soccer practice and asked him to give place- kicking a try. "I switched over to football and just kept on kicking," Yoon said. "It just stuck with me." To say that ignorance is bliss would be an understatement when talking about Yoon's prep years. Forty-yard field goals and kickoffs that sailed through the back of the end zone became the norm at Milton Academy. Yet, Yoon had no idea he was gaining notice as one of the best kickers in the country. "I didn't know what I was doing," said Yoon, who recalled the pros- pects of a college scholarship sur- facing during his sophomore year. "What does that even mean? This was a whole new big world that I had never been into." Irish head coach Brian Kelly spent much of this preseason trying to im- prove player performance in stress- ful situations, and few positions face more pressure than placekicker. Kelly shared a story during train- ing camp of intentionally and relent- lessly harassing and trying to distract Yoon at one practice before and dur- ing a 50-yard field goal attempt. Yoon nailed it. "I'm pretty sure," Yoon said with a laugh, "I didn't hear him." "Amazing," Kelly added of Yoon's steely temperament. As far as Yoon's legacy at Notre Dame and the likelihood he will leave here as its all-time leading scorer, expectantly he handles those prospects and distractions the same way he handles everything else in his life — with cool and calm. "Stay on track with what you have to do," Yoon said, "and be focused on that process every time you kick." And that's Yoon: absent to all dis- traction, stuck in the moment, focused on the next kick … but finally aware of who the heck Tom Brady is. ✦ Ignorance Is Bliss For Justin Yoon UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at Yoon grew up playing hockey, soccer and lacrosse, and didn't know much about football when he took up that sport as an eighth-grader. Now, he is on pace to shatter Notre Dame's all-time scoring record. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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