Seoul National University and K Rigger “Next is the Taeguk Mark”
They say it’s cheating to be the best athlete in school. But it’s a different story if you’re number one in sports. This is the story of Yoo Jun-ha (22)스포츠토토, a rookie striker of the K League 2 (2nd Division) Gyeongnam FC, who never lost his place in the top of the school while playing soccer and realized his dream of becoming a professional soccer player after entering Seoul National University.
Yoo Jun-ha started the FA Cup Round of 16 match (Gyeongnam FC 0-3 loss) against Incheon United of the K League 1 (1st Division) at the Incheon Football Stadium on April 24, playing his fourth official match of the season. He played 85 minutes before being substituted in the 40th minute, the longest he has played in a game since his professional debut. “It was disappointing to play my first game against a first division team and miss a goal,” said Yoo Jun-ha. “It was a game where I could feel more about what I lack and what I need to improve.”
Yoo Jun-ha, who started playing soccer at the age of 10 in Shinjeongcho, Seoul, wasn’t a standout player at a young age, but he wasn’t bad either. As a sophomore at Gangneung Jungang High School, he scored a hat trick in the 2018 Geumgangdae National High School Soccer Tournament final to lead his team to victory, catching the eye of professional scouts. However, in his junior year, he didn’t show much in the most important tournaments and naturally fell out of favor with professional teams.
It was during his senior year of high school that he decided to attend Seoul National University. For him, studying was easier than playing soccer. “From a young age, I thought I shouldn’t focus on soccer, so I studied, and I was surprised to see my grades go up as much as I studied,” he says. He devoted himself to his studies with the intention of going to Seoul National University unless he joined a professional team, and succeeded in getting into Seoul National University (Physical Education). He was the first Seoul National University student in 40 years from Gangneung Central High School.
He continued his amateur career by studying at the university during the day and playing for Nowon United in the K4 League (Division 4) at night, and knocked on the door of the pros by taking a tryout every time the transfer market opened. Eventually, he received a call from Gyeongnam FC after scoring nine goals in 27 games in the K4 League last season and winning the Young Player Award. It wasn’t even a tryout, but an immediate signing.
Yoo made his dream K League debut last month in the fifth round match against Gimcheon Commerce in the K League 2. He became the first Seoul National University player to play professional soccer in 32 years after Hwang Bo-kwan in 1988, Yang Ik-jeon in 1989, and Lee Hyun-seok in 1991 (Lee played in one FA Cup match for Bucheon Jungwon in 2017). Considering the majority of rookies disappear without making their debut, he has been consistently getting opportunities. Gyeongnam FC head coach Seol Ki-hyun praised him for his “flashy play and sensitivity in front of goal,” and advised him, “You have to be able to show a good performance without feeling any pressure, as you are often exposed to the media after your debut, such as broadcast appearances.”
Yoo Jun-ha, who made a name for himself as a krigger from Seoul National University, recently appeared on the popular entertainment program “You Quiz on the Block” and rose to national stardom. “It was an honor to get the chance to appear on the most famous program,” he says, “I was very nervous, but the hosts made me relax and I had a lot of fun. It was a new experience.” Taking a leave of absence after his third year, his ultimate goal is to play for the national team. “Like every soccer player, I dream of wearing the Korean flag,” he said. “I’m not there yet, but I will do my best to succeed as a soccer player. I plan to graduate someday, but I don’t plan to go back to school right away.”