While the rest of the Woodson defense tried to figure out if this was a joke, Yeo’s incredulous teammates yelled for him to get down into his stance.
“When we came back in the huddle, we were all like, ‘Joon, what was that? Don’t talk to them!’ ” said offensive lineman Jason Beylor, recalling the October 2009 game. “Football was his first team sport, so he had no idea what he had done wrong.”
The unwritten rules of sports — let alone the rules of American football — weren’t a part of Yeo’s life growing up in South Korea. Before moving to the United States at age 7, Yeo (pronounced “yuh”) had never even heard of football. And when his friends coaxed him to join the freshman team at the Fairfax County school, Yeo wasn’t too keen on the idea of hitting people.
“Football was this violent, mean sport and I still felt bad sometimes when I hit people,” Yeo said. “The coaches had talked about good sportsmanship, but I didn’t know about when you should and shouldn’t do it.”
It would take three years of patient practice, sudden growth spurts and plenty of teaching for Yeo to reach the point he’s at today. Now a senior, he’s one of the leaders for the fourth-ranked Bulldogs, who will be trying to complete a second consecutive undefeated regular season Friday at Herndon. The 6-foot-3, 330-pound Yeo is also a legitimate recruit, with interest from schools such as Brigham Young and Temple.
Steep learning curve
As the United States celebrated its independence on July 4, 2002, the Yeos marked the start of their transition from Korea. Yeo’s dad, Chang Wook, had always wanted to move his wife and two sons here, but it wasn’t until he became a mechanic that the door opened for him to get a visa.
As 7-year-old Joon walked through the airport that day, the culture shock was immediate.
“Seeing other races of people was something I had not experienced because in Korea, you pretty much only see Asians,” Yeo said. “So when I came here and saw whites, blacks, Native Americans, Indians, it was really new to me.”
Just as new was football. Throughout middle school, a puzzled Yeo would listen as his friends passionately talked about the Redskins, leading him to check out a few games on television with his family. Although Yeo was far from impressed by the sport, his parents began to think the gridiron was a logical landing spot for their son, who by the age of 13 was already 5-10 and 200 pounds.
“At the end of middle school, all of our church friends kept saying it would be a good thing for him to try football,” Chang Wook said through an interpreter, his youngest son, Joon Kyung. “We didn’t know much about football, but we saw how big he was, and you don’t normally see Asians as big as him, so we thought he should try it and see if he liked it.”