Quarterback Danny Hong Commits More Than His Arm to Columbia

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Imagine being the quarterback for a high school football team that was so good, state legislators considered drafting a bill to ban the school from future state playoffs.

Just a month ago, senior quarterback Danny Hong helped lead Bishop Gorman High School to its sixth-straight Division I state title, which capped off a dominant 15-0 season and continued an impressive streak for the Las Vegas-based Catholic school: Gorman hasn’t lost to a team from the state of Nevada since 2008.

2014_Preseason_previewHong, front right, with his teammates and coach. Photo via MaxPreps.com

That was years even before Hong joined the varsity team as a freshman. The 6-foot-4, 215 pound Hong would move to California to attend Westlake High School for his sophomore year, before moving back to Las Vegas and rejoining Bishop Gorman as they continued their dominant run.

Now in his last semester as a high school student, Hong is looking forward. After committing to Columbia University a few weeks ago, he’s set to officially sign on Feb. 4. But even though starting for the Lions is a top goal for him, Hong told KoreAm that his education would be even more important than what he does on the field. He plans to pursue a major in international business or law, and what better place to study that than in Manhattan?

Continue reading below to see what Hong had to say about the influential figures in his life, what he looks forward to at Columbia and his pick for Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s next on the plate for you?

I’m actually going on my official visit to Columbia this Friday to Sunday. It entails pretty much me getting introduced to the coaching staff, getting to know the players, sitting down in meetings, watching practice–doing pretty much everything a Columbia football player would do.

How did Columbia University become your top choice? 

My parents, they’re both Korean, and from a young age, it was instilled in me that education came first. It sounds funny, because when people ask me how I started playing football, I didn’t start playing football until about 7th grade, and that was only because my best friend’s dad told my parents, “Hey, Danny’s got to start playing football. He’s got a great arm. I could see him doing well.”

My dad was okay with it, but my mom was kind of on the edge a bit. So my best friend pretty much convinced my mom to let me give it a go.

Pragmatically, I thought, I wanted to take football as far as it would take me, but at the same time, get a great education out of it.

2044Photo by Clint Jenkins

I try to tell this to all my friends: Football can take you so far, and the one thing no one can take away from you is your education. So why not get the best of both worlds? I visited Harvard, Columbia, Princeton and Yale last summer. I narrowed it down to Harvard, Princeton and Columbia, then Harvard and Columbia.

My dad always said, “If you’re going to go to college, go to a college where you’re in that city for four years and you’re going to enjoy those four years.” I went to Harvard four times–I really liked the vibe there, but for me, I want to pursue international business or law, and why not be in the city of the world, the mecca, the hub of it all?

I’ve always been interested in and captivated by the East Coast culture and vibe. There’s so much history and background. There’s a lot of stuff you don’t experience on the West Coast that I want to experience. My mom loves New York, also, so that was just a cool little thing for her. She could come on the weekends and we could hang out and stuff.

What are your goals at Columbia University?

I want to start my freshman year. I want to get on the field as soon as I can. I want to get out of there with a Columbia degree and go to grad school. Hopefully, the choices I have at grad school whatever school it is, I just want to really, really be a sponge of education there. And just get all the education that Columbia offers. It’s such a great curriculum that they offer, and it’d be a waste not to really embrace it all and make the most of it.

2041Photo by Clint Jenkins

Who have been the biggest influences in your life so far?

First, I’d name Coach Rob Burgman. He’s actually the freshman coach at Bishop Gorman. After that, my mom, and then probably all of my best friends.

Coach Burgman was the nonpartisan party that really steered me to go the right way. I’ll always uphold his name and be forever grateful for having him in my life.

What do you mean by nonpartisan?

He is actually a Columbia football grad. But when he went to all the Harvard, Princeton and Yale visits with me last summer, he told me, “Danny, I came out of Columbia with a degree, and I could have done whatever job I wanted, but I decided to be an educator and a coach. Whether it’s Harvard, Yale or Princeton, do what’s best for you. Honestly, at the end of the day, it’s your decision. It’s your life.”

I really took that to heart, and I respected what he said. He may have mentioned Columbia twice or three times, but that was because we were at the campus, and he was explaining, hey, I learned this here, I did this here. But it was never that big of a push. He was genuine when he told me, “Do what’s best for you.”

I had some people pushing me one way or the other, but his words were the words I probably valued the most.

During your time in high school, what have been your favorite memories on and off the field?

Off the field, my favorite high school memories involve building the relationships with all the people that I’ve met. I hope to continue all of them into the future.

On the field, I’d have to say–besides winning all the championships and stuff–it was becoming close with friends and teammates I never thought I’d meet. Becoming friends with a third or fourth-string lineman, or a linebacker I’d never have talked to in my life. I got to know them sincerely and actually become friends with them.

To me, I was taught at a young age to never burn a bridge. I’m a pretty gregarious person at heart, and I’m pretty social. But I thought it was cool to become friends with a guy my age in my AP classes. He wasn’t the most popular, but I was really able to become close friends with him.

What quality do you admire most in your friends?

I’d say loyalty, someone who’s not going to be fake. That’s all I ask for, to be straight up with me.

What keeps you grounded?

My faith.

2045Photo by Clint Jenkins

Any pregame rituals?

We have a theater at a football facility. We’d always eat, and then go to this theater for about an hour and we’d all take a nap or hang out. Probably an hour before the game, I start to get in my zone and put my headphones in and just start vibing out.

What songs do you listen to?

I actually have a playlist. I’m not a guy who listens to hard metal rock to get pumped up. I have to listen to mellow music, so whether it’s from Andre Bocelli, Mozart, Beethoven, Usher, R&B– I’ll throw it back to classical music, too. Anything that’s mellow.

Three words to describe yourself:

Gregarious, indefatigable and sincere.

What do you do to wind down?

I’m a big shower guy. I’ll take a 25 minute, 30 minute shower. In my free time, I’m a pretty big shoe guy. I collect a lot of shoes.

Favorite food?

Korean-wise, I’m a big kmchi-jjigae and kalbi person. Non-korean, fettucine alfredo pasta.

If you could be anyone for a day, who would it be?

I think I’d want to be, probably Gandhi.

Your pick to win Super Bowl 49:

I’d have to say the Seahawks. The way they came back after being down (against the Packers), I just think they’re on too much of a high right now.


Featured image courtesy of MaxPreps