BELMONT, Mass. – The Milton Academy football team was celebrating an impressive 40-10 win over Independent School League rival Belmont Hill when Mustangs head coach Kevin MacDonald summoned sophomore place kicker Justin Yoon.
“Justin Yoon,” MacDonald’s voice boomed across the field.
Yoon, who was helping clear up the sideline at the time, quickly swung his head around and responded, “Yes, sir.”
Always aiming to please, Yoon dutifully came jogging across the field. His coach commented on how much his teammates enjoy having him around. The life of a kicker can sometimes be a lonely one, but Yoon’s very much a member of this Mustangs team.
But Yoon’s journey to Milton and his ascent to being ranked a top sophomore placekicking prospect in the nation is an unlikely one.
“I never really knew what football was until I was introduced in eighth grade,” Yoon said after Saturday’s victory. “That’s what it started with, basically.”
Yoon was born in Ohio, but his family is of Korean descent. His parents – father, Jiseop, and mother, Mihwa – currently reside in the Nashville, Tennessee area while Justin boards at Milton Academy. His father played soccer at Governor’s Academy in addition to being an Olympic figure skater. Jiseop also got Justin into soccer from a young age, perhaps the origin of his youngest son’s booming leg.
Soccer was Justin’s first athletic love. Football wasn’t on his radar until eighth grade, however. That’s when the football coach at Nashville’s Harding Academy suggested he try kicking.
“That’s where I learned how to kick,” Yoon said. “Then, when I switched over to football, I just kept on kicking, and it just stuck onto me. It just happened.”
Yoon opened eyes in his freshman year with the Mustangs. A 40-yard field goal in last year’s Belmont Hill game, played in monsoon conditions in Milton, was a highlight. Yoon made the kick with 15 yards to spare into a swirling wind.
He continued building his national reputation at a summer camp conducted by NFL legend Ray Guy and prokicker.com. Yoon was the best of his age group, averaging 60.75 yards per kickoff attempt at the Augusta, Georgia event. His longest kickoff of the day sailed a staggering 75 yards.
While Yoon presents an offensive weapon for MacDonald to use, his greatest asset might be in what he does to opposing offenses.
“He’s money in the bank,” MacDonald said of Yoon’s field goal tries. “But I think the best thing is just the fact that he kicks just about every kickoff off the field.”
During Saturday’s win over Belmont Hill, Yoon sent several kickoffs clear through the end zone – one of which had a near chance of flying through the uprights.
It’s Yoon’s favorite part of the game.
“The best part about the kickoff is that I can kick it as far I want, anywhere I want,” he said. “So I just want to make sure our team doesn’t have to put too much effort in trying to block the other team.”
Yoon said he’s taken to football, and he hopes to pursue his career into college. With Division 1 programs likely to come calling, Yoon’s set his sights on some of the best academic institutions in the nation, including the Ivys, Duke and Stanford.
With brains to go along with the golden boot, that doesn’t even tell what’s made Yoon so popular with his teammates.
“It’s great when a kid with that kind of ability is totally humble and just a sweet kid,” MacDonald said. “Everybody loves him, and being a kicker is kind of an odd thing at practice, so we set him up in the weight room every day and he works in the weight room with our strength coach and he never complains, he does exactly what we ask him to do.”
Likewise, Yoon credits his teammates.
“It was awkward at first,” Yoon said about the move to Milton Academy. “I’d never been to Massachusetts before. I’d never kicked on the field before. I’d never known anybody from MA [Milton Academy]. And then all my teammates they’d encourage me and helping me to be the kicker that I am right now.”
But MacDonald knows all too well who’s the person responsible for Yoon’s success.
“I’d love to say that we’re coaching him up and teaching him all these great things, but he’s kind of coaching himself,” MacDonald joked. “Every day, I have to say, ‘Justin, enough’s enough. You’re going to have no leg left.’”
And he still has plenty of leg to boot.