When Woo Joo Han was presented with a ring after Monroe Township High School’s football team won the Central Jersey Group III football championship, he felt embarrassed.
After all, the junior’s season came to an abrupt end four games into the season when he tore his medial collateral ligament (MCL). If all Han could do was cheer his team on the sidelines with a pair of crutches supporting his surgically repaired knee, well, that really wasn’t contributing anything in his mind. He needed to be on the field, helping the Falcons, whether it was as a change of pace running back who spelled all-state Blake Bascom, or as a defensive back.
Actually, Han very much deserved his ring. There may be more physically imposing or more talented players than the 5- foot-9, 175-pound senior, but if leadership and work ethic are characteristics of a winner, then Han is an MVP.
“Woo Joo possesses all the attributes we look for in a player who represents our program,” says his coach, Chris Beagan. “We want our players to step on to the field in the best condition possible, but there’s not a lot that can be done to control injuries. What can be controlled is how players react after being injured. Are they going to give up or are they going to work harder to get back on the field? How Woo Joo responded to his injury inspired us all.”
Han’s response was to add about 20 pounds to his now solid frame through a rigorous offseason conditioning and weightlifting program, which increased his speed to 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash. As a result, he is being viewed as one of the more valuable players to return for Monroe this fall.
Han has very little to prove in the classroom. His average, he says, is 88, but when you factor in that all his courses are either AP or Honors, he can only be labeled a truly accomplished student. No wonder his application to the U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Military Academy have been met with positive initial responses. He has scored high on all the preliminary physical tests, and the Navy has assigned him a Blue and Gold officer who will further evaluate how prepared he is to enter the Academy.
“I meet with my officer next week,” Han said this past weekend. “Navy would be my first choice because I want to pursue engineering, and the curriculum is tailored to what I want to major in. We’ll see.”
Han’s first academic success came at the age of 5. Because he was raised in a household where the native tongue of South Korea was spoken, he was labeled as a student in which English was his second language. The intervention program wasn’t necessary. He quickly proved he belonged as a mainstream kindergarten student and has flourished in the classroom since.
“I knew he was a special individualwhen he stepped on the field as a freshman,” Beagan recalled. “He was sort of small but he kept pushing, trying to be the fastest player to finish sprints, and bouncing up after he was knocked off his feet.”
“Honestly, I never thought I’d be a football player,” said Han. “I wanted to play, but my mom wouldn’t let me go out for Pop Warner football. But I gained a little weight and she reluctantly said I could play freshman football when I entered high school.”
Han now hopes to become a member of a Monroe Township team that achieves even greater things. The task is daunting. The Falcons finished 11-1 last year, including a Greater Middlesex Conference White Division title. That’s on top of winning Central Jersey Group III. Their reward was to be elevated to the large school Central Jersey Group IV state section and GMC Red Division, where they now compete with the likes of Piscataway and Sayreville, two of the GMC heavyweights.
“It’s a challenge, but if we can win again, that shows we belong playing with the best teams,” Han said. “The goal is to win the championship and get a ring.”
A ring Han can call his own.