“I want to be the best in the nation."
That's the message sophomore kicker Jonathan Kim relayed to UNC football's head coach Mack Brown before the beginning of the 2020 football season.
Kim described it as more of a promise than a wish and followed through on the declaration by continuing to excel as UNC's kickoff specialist. On 89 kickoff attempts, Kim totaled 5,742 yards and 76 touchbacks.
The effort he put into fulfilling that promise helped make him one of three walk-ons put on scholarship this spring. In a press conference on Thursday, Brown said Kim's kickoff abilities were key to the Tar Heels' special teams success.
"Him kicking them out all of the time really saved some wear and tear on your team," Brown said. "We thought that he was vital and he deserved that."
Brown also acknowledged the impact that moments like walk-ons receiving scholarship can have on a team.
“It is always a morale lift for the team when you reward players that weren’t on scholarship for what they’ve done," Brown said.
Aside from the accomplishment of being put on an athletic scholarship, Kim said the honor will help him finish out his academic career at UNC.
“It’s huge, my family was actually struggling to be able to afford to stay here because I’m paying out-of-state tuition," Kim said in a press conference. "This scholarship means I get to stay longer and receive one of the best educations in the country.”
Kim credited UNC's locker room environment, one fueled by both competition and ambition to improve, as key to his success this season.
“Everybody on the team has a mentality of wanting to be the best," Kim said. "I think being in that environment really helped me to be the best that I possibly can.”
Special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt said Kim is capable of continuing to excel at his kickoff specialty and potentially earn a role as a field goal kicker as his career moves forward.
Now given the opportunity to compete with UNC on an athletic scholarship, Kim said he wants to turn his time with the Tar Heels into further success after graduation.
“I’d like to be the best athletically and academically," Kim said. "I want to make the ACC All-Academic team. I want to put myself in position to help me reach goals, if it’s not the NFL, to get a good job when I graduate. Being here is going to make it easier to put myself in that position.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.