The most difficult adjustment was being away from family, of course. Seung Hoon Choi left home in Seoul, South Korea when he was 14-years-old.
The next most difficult adjustment for Choi was communication, the English language. That required the better part of two years. “I didn’t know what was going on, so I just sat in the class every day, just stare at teacher, try (to) figure out what she’s saying, what he’s saying,” said Nebraska’s junior offensive guard.
The classes in which he sat were at Lincoln Christian High School. Because he couldn’t speak the language, he avoided classmates. “I didn’t want them to ask me questions,” Choi said.
Once he made some friends, however, “that’s when my English started picking up,” he said.
That’s also when he became interested in football. Choi saw his friends playing football and figured it might be fun to join them – and to wear a helmet and pads. He liked the look of football. “It was kind of cool to watch,” he said.
He was a sophomore then.
Choi had played baseball and soccer in Korea, but football was literally foreign to him, which is why he started out on defense. He played noseguard, and his responsibility was to hold his ground in the middle of the line, “just play the gap.”
Someone his size, with his strength, stands out at the Class C-1 level in Nebraska. Even so, it was tough because “I didn’t know what was going on,” said Choi. “If I see a guy running with the ball, I try (to) tackle. That’s what they told me to do.
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t have much techniques. I just play.”
His technique might have been lacking, but he played well enough that former Nebraska defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove talked to him about walking on. And after Cosgrove was gone, Husker offensive line coach Barney Cotton showed an interest.
It wasn’t easy at first. When they talked on the phone, Cotton had difficulty understanding him. Again, language was an issue.
“Actually, he talks a lot better now than he did then,” Cotton said.
And he knows a lot more about football. In fact, he knows enough to play in the offensive line. No longer is he charged with plugging the middle on defense.
Choi not only has played for the Huskers this season, he’s started at left guard when sophomore Andrew Rodriguez was injured. Choi and Spencer Long, the right guard, played every snap against Penn State because there were no other healthy guards.
Long, like Choi, is a walk-on. And starting center Mike Caputo was a walk-on before earning a scholarship, a reflection of the value of Nebraska’s walk-on program.
Choi’s story is unique, even for a walk-on. “I mean, that’s incredible,” sophomore tackle Jeremiah Sirles said. “I couldn’t imagine. I played football since I was 8-years-old, and it’s just something coming from somewhere, I don’t even think football’s a pastime over in South Korea, coming over here and ‘Hey, that looks fun,’ and playing at the collegiate level.”
Choi got his first start against Washington. “Having never played football and then to play, what Class C-1 (in high school), whatever that was, and then all of a sudden as a junior in college you’ve starting against a Pac-10 (12) opponent, whatever,” said Cotton.
“That’s a heck of an accomplishment for a guy.”
No longer does Choi try to avoid questions. He asks them in the offensive line meetings. “He looks like he knows what’s going on,” Sirles said. “I mean, he’s very attentive to everything that’s going on. I think that’s just a testament to his will. He’s a smart kid.”
He’s also “humble with the whole thing,” said Sirles.
Choi no longer tries to avoid those around him, either. He’s a “great guy, just very quiet,” Cotton said. “But the guys love him, and he’s a great joke teller. He’s probably one of the driest, funniest guys you’ve ever been around.
“They’re not really funny stories. It’s just how he says them that makes them funny.”
Tackle Yoshi Hardrick, who plays alongside him, said Choi’s first start against Washington was “probably the funniest game I’ve ever played.”
The Washington players were talking trash. And Choi was talking back.
“I didn’t know he talked that much,” said Hardrick. “Every play when we’d break the huddle, he just kept saying stuff . . . He’d talk very funny. I don’t know. It was just different.”
Clearly, Choi’s language problem has been solved.