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Sunday, June 22, 2003

Kawaguchi signs with 49ers

Staff writer

Masafumi Kawaguchi, one of Japan's top football players, signed with the San Francisco 49ers and will join the NFL team's summer camp for the second consecutive year, NFL Japan announced on Friday.

The 30-year-old Kawaguchi, who aims to be the first Japanese player to play in the NFL, took part in the 49ers camp last summer as part of the NFL Osaka 2002 program.

Then-San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci rated Kawaguchi so highly that the linebacker was asked to stay on with the team even after the exhibition game in Osaka. He played two more preseason games with the 49ers but was cut 10 days before the season started.

The 49ers, now coached by Dennis Erickson, called up Kawaguchi for the camp, scheduled to start late July, knowing that the NFL has a new rule in place that allows the 32 teams to sign one non-American player who played in NFL Europe in the spring as an exemption from the 80-man camp roster.

This will be cut to 65 before the last preseason game and to 53 before the season starts on Sept. 4 when the New York Jets host the Washington Redskins.

The 49ers open their season against the Chicago Bears at home on Sept. 7.

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