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Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Togura makes strong impression on national team
Speedy collegiate receiver transformed from casual football fan to die-hard gridiron player
KAWASAKI— Eight years ago, the first American football World Cup kicked off, and Kazuya Togura did not know about the sport.
Four years ago, when the second World Cup was held, he showed a little interest in it, reading articles about it in magazines and newspapers. But he wasn't a die-hard fan.
Interestingly, though, Togura might be the X-factor for the Japanese football national team, which is vying for its third straight world championship.
A Hosei University wide receiver, Togura is one of the only two collegiate players on the 61-man provisional national team.
The other is Ritsumeikan University wideout Naoki Maeda, who also hopes to play in the 3rd IFAF World Championship, which will be held July 7-15 in Kawasaki.
Coach Toshiaki Abe will announce Japan's final 45-man roster for the tournament on Saturday, and Togura, who made a strong impression in the team's warmup game against the United States Forces Japan team last Sunday, is expected to crack the squad.
Togura is an elusive and deceptive receiver, blessed with phenomenal quickness and stamina.
In scrimmages Sunday, he ran in motion, moving from his original spot before the quarterback took snaps so he could confuse the opponent when he stepped onto the gridiron for the game, which Japan won 36-6.
Maybe helped by the flashy orange-colored helmet of Hosei, Togura, who guided the school to a back-to-back collegiate national championships in 2005 and '06, looked like the most prominent player on Sunday afternoon.
He caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tetsuo Takata with 7:39 left in the fourth quarter and had a game-high 67 receiving yards.
"I've got to thank this helmet," said Togura with a laugh, holding his helmet.
When you look at Togura's appearance, you might notice it's a bit different from other players on the squad. His legs are a bit thicker, too.
He played soccer as a midfielder before switching to football in his second year at Komaba Gakuen High School in Tokyo.
Togura's primary role on Team Japan is as a receiver. Yet, he kicks the ball — capitalizing on his experience in soccer — as well.
He is ready to be a kicker if needed.
Asked about this appealing versatility, Togura said bashfully, "Well, . . . I can receive, and become a kicker as well, something like that."
Seriously, however, being able to play at multiple positions is a powerful criteria that Abe seeks in selecting players, because a 45-man roster is a small number for a football team, especially in the World Cup, in which each team will have to play three games in a week.
So Togura, who has practiced as a returner as well, is an ideal candidate for Abe.
The coach, who guided Japan to World Cup titles in the last two tourneys, said earlier this spring that he wanted to use Togura.
"He is a far better player than others," said Abe.
"He's a student, but is doing heck of a good job."
Again, remember this: Togura did not care passionately about the sport in the years of the last two World Cups.
But, in 2007, all he cares about is football, feeling the meaning of the national flag.
"This is what determines the world's best," Togura said.
"I don't know how much I can do, though, there is still a little time, so I'd like to keep pushing myself so I can (be a tough matchup) for foreign players."