Husker linemen continue walk-on tradition

When the phone rang early Sunday morning in Seoul, Yu Mi Chu responded like any parent would. She worried.

Her son, Nebraska offensive lineman Seung Hoon Choi, never called home at 4 a.m.

"She thought I got in some kind of accident," Choi said.

Choi quickly put his mom at ease. He had good news. Nebraska had awarded him a scholarship. No accident.

"They said they're proud of me," Choi said. "That was the best part."

Landing a scholarship is only the latest chapter in Choi's incredible story. He grew up in Korea and left for Lincoln at 14, an eighth grader who barely knew any English. He ended up living with his sister and then several host families from Lincoln Christian High School. He didn't play football until his sophomore year, and caught the eye of Huskers assistants living in the same town.

He eventually attended a Nebraska camp and was asked to walk on to the team. Last season he appeared in 11 games at guard, starting five.

The 6-foot-2, 295-pound Choi isn’t the first Huskers walk-on to become a significant contributor. Nebraska's walk-on tradition might be unmatched in college football. Yet he's certainly the most unique.

And he's not alone among the Huskers' linemen.

If any Nebraska fans are concerned about the viability of the team’s storied walk-on program, they need only look at the interior of the offensive line when the season kicks off Sept. 1. There's a decent chance Nebraska starts three former walk-ons -- Choi, junior guard Spencer Long and senior center Justin Jackson.

All three were among five players awarded scholarships Saturday.

"I saw him with a tear in his eye," Choi said of Jackson, his roommate. "After practice, we got in the locker room and hugged each other. It's something I can't really describe, a great feeling I got to share this moment with him and Spencer.

"We have our own pride as walk-ons."

Long, who started every game last season, was the lone junior of the five to receive a scholarship.

“Justin was shocked, Seung was shocked,” Long said. "It was great to see those guys get rewarded for the work they've put in here."

Long had no FBS offers coming out of Elkhorn, Neb. But growing up in the state, he knew there was a path to Lincoln.

"I always knew we put an emphasis on the walk-on program here," Long said. "For players like me who weren’t that highly recognized out of high school, the opportunity to come and play and try to prove yourself at the highest level is really awesome."

Like most freshmen, Long came to Nebraska unsure of how he’d measure up. But it only took a few snaps in practice for him to know he could compete at the FBS level.

Choi drew inspiration from players like former Huskers center Mike Caputo, a former walk-on who started his final 27 games and earned a scholarship before the 2009 season.

Now Choi, Long and Jackson are setting the example for other walk-ons hoping to take the field for the Huskers on fall Saturdays.

"We worked so hard to get where we are right now," Long said. "I'm proud to be next to two guys who have been through the same kinds of things that I have, and have had to work from the bottom to the top."