Friday Night Hero: West Rowan's Matthew Choi
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA - The surname Choi is as common in South Korea as Jones is in the United States.
There are millions of Chois of Korean birth or ancestry, including notable golfers. Na Yeon Choi won the U.S. Women's Open this summer and K.J. Choi is a top-100 guy on the PGA Tour.
This football season West Rowan has discovered its own Choi, although strapping senior defensive end Matt Choi specializes in hitting ballcarriers rather than hitting greens in regulation.
Choi was a just a face in the crowd as a junior on a team loaded with defensive linemen. His claim to fame was making two tackles in West's lopsided loss to Havelock in the 3A state championship game.
But players in West's program never stop getting stronger and better. As a senior, Choi has emerged as a surprise all-county candidate.
In fourth-ranked West's 4-0 start against four quality teams, Choi has made at least one important stop in every game for the county's top defensive unit. No official Post stats are kept for tackles for loss, but it's safe to say Choi would be near the top of that list. He's likely in double figures.
"The past few years there's been really good players in front of me," Choi said. "But I learned a lot from them, and now it's time for me to take a spot and become a leader. At least that's what I'm thinking about in my head."
Choi has a good head - he makes the honor roll - and he has good shoulders and arms to go with his brains. He weighed 185 pounds as a freshman, but now he's a 6-foot, 220-pound rock.
"I didn't want to get pushed around," Choi explains.
To push Choi around now might require renting a bulldozer.
"We think Matt is an underrated guy," West coach Scott Young said. "He's been in the shadows waiting patiently, and now it's his turn. He's making plays. He's pressuring quarterbacks and he's getting tackles behind the sticks."
Choi has been productive despite playing with pain the last few weeks.Even though he made a critical stop late in the 14-7 win against Davie County, Choi sustained a friendly-fire injury."I got clipped by a teammate at Davie and bruised my leg pretty badly," Choi said. "I got a charley horse that has made it hard to run."
It hasn't kept him out of the lineup. The way Choi sees it - he's done enough watching in past years.
Choi's best game may have been West's 29-21 win at North Rowan on Friday.
The game took place on the 11th anniversary of West's last county loss - Sept. 7, 2001, at North's Eagle Stadium - so the Cavaliers had the necessary karma in place to pull a massive upset.
Choi helped prevent it. His best play was blowing up a North jet sweep for a 3-yard loss.
"I could tell the offensive lineman on my side was going to try to cut me off," Choi said. "But I got in front of him and was able to make that tackle."
Choi is quiet by nature, but Young says he can unleash a dry wit when a teammate gets on his nerves. He'll also show some emotion on the field when he makes a big play such as the one at North Rowan.
West will need more emotion and more plays from Choi on Friday when it travels to Statesville for one of the biggest games in the state in 3A.
As always, West will put phenomenal streaks on the line - streaks such as 32 straight NPC wins (dating back to 2007) and 30 straight NPC road victories (dating back to 2003).
Those streaks are part of a West Rowan tradition Choi is proud be part of.
"Our job will be to contain their quarterback," Choi said quietly. "If we can keep him in the pocket, we can win."