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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Kinoshita gets chance to live dream


Staff writer

A new hope is born, and he could be the last hope as well.

News photo
Noriaki Kinoshita poses with the Atlanta Falcons helmet and a football on his hands on Wednesday in a press conference that announced the receiver/kick returner will join the Falcons' training camp in Atlanta later this month. KAZ NAGATSUKA PHOTO

24-year-old Japanese kickoff/punt return phenom Noriaki Kinoshita has been invited to the preseason training camp of the Atlanta Falcons, the NFL Japan announced Wednesday.

A former Ritsumeikan University player, Kinoshita played wide receiver was a return specialist for the Amsterdam Admirals in the recently-disbanded NFL Europa (NFLEL) for the last three seasons.

"Frankly speaking, I'm... excited," Kinoshita said with a smile at a Tokyo news conference. "But I've only been called up for the training camp and the main event starts from now."

Kinoshita signed a two-year contract as a free agent with the Falcons, who feature players such as starting quarterback Michael Vick. The NFL South club went 7-9 (third in the division) and missed the playoffs last season.

According to an NFL Japan executive Jiro Arai, Kinoshita also had offers from three other teams — the New York Giants, New York Jets and Green Bay Packers.

Kinoshita, who has always said he was a fan of the Falcons and Vick, said he chose Atlanta over the other three for a simple reason: his intuition.

"Because I had no idea which team is good or anything," Kinoshita said. "So what I relied on was my intuition."

Kinoshita's biggest trait is in returning the ball. This season, he gained 175 yards in punt returns and 604 yards in kickoff returns (both second in the league). His punt return average of 15.9 yards ranked No. 1 in the league.

This past season, Kinoshita was selected in the All-NFL Europa team as a special team for the second straight year.

"I'm excited to see Nori compete in training camp with us," Falcons new head coach Bobby Petrino said in a statement. "We've already had stiff competition at the wide receiver position throughout our mini-camps and offseason workouts, and Nori's presence now adds more to that position. We are also interested in seeing his return skills."

The NFLEL has been the gateway for international players including of Japan to make an 53-NFL roster, and a total of 32 Japanese players, including Kinoshita, have played in the NFLEL. But last Friday, the NFL announced that it folds the league after 16 seasons.

In the respect, Kinoshita will receive enormous expectations from Japanese fans.

"I was lucky (that he could play in the NFLEL)," Kinoshita said with a bitter smile. "Since this's come to the last, I want to play as best as possible and build up my reputation."



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