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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Team Japan takes big steps

Begins preparation for IFAF World Championships


Staff writer

KAWASAKI -- There was anxiety and issues quickly piled up. But a first step is always like that in sports, especially when you build a team that represents a country.

"If they remain on the final (national team) roster and wear the Hinomaru (rising sun) uniform, I guess they show tears in their eyes," Japan head coach Toshiaki Abe jokingly said on Sunday after the Japanese National Team's 36-17 win over the combined Nihon University/Hosei University team in the first warmup game for this summer's third IFAF World Championships at Kawasaki Stadium.

Three quarterbacks that appeared in the game -- Takahiro Kojima (Onward Skylarks), Manabu Tatsumura (Obic Seagulls) and Kentaro Namiki (Asahi Beer Silver Star) -- combined for 421 yards on a 33-for-51 passing to lead Japan's 564-yard offensive attack.

Kojima started the game and came up with the best performance among the three with 182 passing yards and a touchdown, followed by Tatsumura's 142 yards and a TD. The 28-year-old Kojima also had 71 yards rushing.

Wide receiver Ken Shimizu and running back Takuya Furutani, teammates on the Seagulls, led the team with 75 and 72 receiving yards, respectively.

Furutani had two rushing touchdowns and two more receiving scores.

Kazuya Togura, a Hosei wideout and kicker who was the only collegiate player selected for the national team, had a spectacular game, making three receptions for 67 yards.

"First off, I wanted to see how the players perform in an actual game," Abe said.

"We've been watching them in workouts, but you won't really know their capabilities until seeing them in a game. I was able to clearly find out which players have capabilities and which players don't."

He warned that they will face physically stronger players with a lot more bulk in the upcoming world championships.

"I felt our physical contact was weak," Abe said. "In the world championships, the foreign players are bigger and I hope our players won't lose their nerves."

The players themselves realized there were issues that need to be fixed from now on.

Tatsumura said communication problems have to be resolved because the national team consists of players from numerous clubs.

"Especially in the first half, we weren't communicating well each other, like when I threw this way, receivers went that way," Tatsumura said.

However, they had gains as well as setbacks.

The depth at the quarterback position is one. All three signal-callers showed composure and played well.

There are three more QBs on the national team's 69-man roster, and those three will play in another warmup game against the combined Kwansei Gakuin University/Ritsumeikan University team at Expo Flash Stadium in Suita, Osaka Pref., on April 29, instead of the three that played Sunday.

Despite some shaky plays, Abe and his squad kept a positive mind-set after the game.

"There are steps to build this team up," said Abe, who led Japan to the last two world championships titles. "We shouldn't rush up . . . (We will) establish a good team gradually."

Abe said the team will be reduced to approximately 55 players early next month, followed by an exhibition against a selective team of the U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan and a training camp in Kakegawa, Shizuoka Pref., later in the month.



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