Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Q&A With Notre Dame's All-Time Leading Scorer Justin Yoon

February 27, 2019

Notre Dame is set to start spring ball on Saturday, so what better way to officially close the chapter from last season than one final interview with Justin Yoon, the all-time leading scorer in program history. 

Yoon is still around Notre Dame as he’s taking one class, but it’s worth noting he gradated in December. 

I caught up Yoon earlier this week to recap his time in South Bend and to see what’s coming up next for the Notre Dame legend.

What was the Notre Dame experience like as a student?

As a student, it was unique in its own way. You’re going to a great University, so you’re learning a lot that you’ll need for the future. That’s 4 for 40. You can experience great professors, but also different experiences with other students. You’re in a different cultural dynamic with other people and I think it’s pretty cool the way Notre Dame is set up.

What was the Notre Dame experience like as a football player?

The experience was unique. You’re not only experiencing something as a student but an athlete outside of that. Time constraints are a big issue. It’s a privilege to be part of the team while understanding you’re part of another group with other students. Being able to experience both aspects is pretty interesting. You learn a lot of new things outside and inside. 

Rick Kimball/ISD
Ji and Justin Yoon

You were part of three teams who were in the playoff race into the final month of the season, but also part of the 2016 team. How far has the program come in the last two seasons?

It’s definitely been a significant change. There was a whole locker room change. The entire staff was basically changed. People were not sure how it was going to change, but I think it was a good change because the coaches and everyone started to formulate better. The guys started to work harder. 

Coach (Matt) Balis has been a big impact on us and he’s helped us a significant amount. He changed the program around. Being able to see the transition from a 4-8 season to back-to-back successful season was amazing and impressive.

You mentioned Matt Balis, safe to say that was the biggest chance from 2016?

His program changed the team to be dominant. It definitely helped in many respects. Without him, I think we would have changed, but it’s a big difference when you have someone who knows what he’s doing when it comes to strength and conditioning.

Notre Dame was close to making the playoffs before but got over the hurdle your senior year. Personally, what did that accomplishment mean to you?

It was a surprise to me. I knew the team was good, but going 12-0 isn’t easy. It’s probably one of the most challenging things you can ever do in any situation. If you look at Alabama, it’s impressive how they do it, but a lot of people take it for granted. ‘Oh, you win because you’re this type of team.’

One win is difficult. Knowing the team was able to do that this year was a huge change for the program. Looking forward, they have to continue to do the same thing, but you can look forward to it because your team has been able to do something like that.

What was the craziest experience or atmosphere you encountered at Notre Dame? 

There were multiple occasions. My freshman year playing Clemson was a crazy experience. Clemson is Clemson. It’s not an easy place to play. It’s a difficult place to play because of how many people there are and how loud it is. It’s a home field advantage for Clemson. Then there was a hurricane at the same time. 

Rick Kimball/ISD
NC State 2016

It was the same thing with the NC State game. I won’t play in another game like that. The field was drenched to the point it was a slip n’ slide. It was the hardest game I’ve ever played in my life. 

Then I would say Michigan last year – I’ve never heard the stadium be that loud before. It was unique knowing our fans could be that supportive and to have that voice. It makes a big difference when your team has a fanbase that can make a difference. Those were the three games that were impressive in terms of fanbase and the game itself. 

What was the toughest part of being a student-athlete at Notre Dame that people might not think about?

Just how much effort it takes to be there every day. You end up doing it because you care about the team and the program. You care about your brothers. It’s a lot more difficult than people think. People think ‘Oh, you’re on the football and you have privileges.’ 

At the end of the day, it’s not an easy feat. Only people who have done it before will understand how difficult. There’s a lot of expectations because you’re on the team. One of the hardest things I’ve ever faced was people expecting you to do certain things when you have limited time. You’re expected to be a good athlete and student at the same time every day for four years. You go through the same routine and that’s the hardest thing. It’s difficult to stay on a routine like that.

Not too many South Korean football players out there. There have been articles written by the most prominent newspapers in South Korea about you. What has been the reaction in South Korea to your success? Did you open a door for more Koreans to try football?

People will see my next chapter. People see what I’ve done to this point and it’s opened eyes in the Korean community, but it’s still a matter of if I get to the next step or if it’s possible to go that far. I think that’s what people are looking at. 

I’ve tried being a role model for others. I’ve done what I can for others and hopefully, people can look at that to continue to hope for the best. I hope people will look at it be like ‘Hey, I can do that too.’

What’s next for Justin Yoon?

My goal is to be able to get on a team no matter how I get there whether I'm drafted or not. Getting drafted is the best, but it’s not a guarantee especially at my position. There are so many limiting factors, but who knows what can happen. If I do the best of my ability, then that’s what I’ll be happy with. 

If someone decides to give me a chance, then I’ll be fortunate enough to be one of those guys. At the next stage, it’s all about who can do it as a professional. At the end of the day, it’s how well can I do it and to what extent can I do it, so others will say ‘I need him.’ 

If they need me, I’ll be there to do it. If they don’t need me, then it’s the luck of the draw.

What are you preparing for now so you’ll be ready when that shot comes?

My mentality is the same and it should be the same. I’ve gone through this process for a long time with the football team here. It shouldn’t be any different. The only difference is there is money involved and higher expectations. I can’t be thinking about any of that. I can only look forward to my next goal.

Putting you on the spot. Since you watch practice all the time, who is ready to have a breakout season in 2019? 

Honestly, I would say Chris Finke. He’s consistently shown great effort and great playmaking abilities. If he’s given many chances and continues to do what he does, he’ll have a good breakout season. It’s incredible to see what he’s done so far coming from his background.

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