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Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012
Seagulls' Hagiyama takes advantage of good fortune
By hauling in a touchdown pass in every game this X League season, wide receiver Ryoma Hagiyama has blossomed into a potent deep threat for the Obic Seagulls.
Obic is looking to win its third straight Rice Bowl title against collegiate champ Kwansei Gakuin University on Jan. 3 at Tokyo Dome.
The 27-year-old wideout, however, recognizes that he still has much to learn as a player, and so do his teammates and coaches.
Seagulls quarterback Shun Sugawara, for instance, thinks that Hagiyama, who notched a league-high 13 touchdown receptions during the nine-game fall season, including the playoffs and Japan X Bowl, has been fortunate to be able to play alongside veteran role models Noriaki Kinoshita, a former Atlanta Falcons international practice squad player, and Ken Shimizu. Both have played for the Japan national squad.
"(Hagiyama)'s been a key player for sure," Sugawara said after the Seagulls earned the 2012 X League championship with a 27-24 win over the Kajima Deers in Monday night's Japan X Bowl.
"Yet he's been able to compete with Kinoshita and Ken Shimizu, who've represented the country, and that must have helped him. He's perhaps played better than he was supposed to play."
Head coach Makoto Ohashi's opinion wasn't much different from his quarterback's.
"While we've tried to play as a team, he's just happened to shine in that way," Ohashi said after his team's playoff game on Dec. 2 in Yokohama.
"Well, I can give credit to him for taking advantage of those opportunities, though. He's improved on his concentration, that's for sure."
That isn't exactly the highest of praise, but that doesn't bother Hagiyama.
Hagiyama, who was second on the team in receiving yards with 562, behind only Kinoshita (716) this year, said that he felt inferior to the likes of Kinoshita and Shimizu in terms of yards gained after catches, so he worked on that area of his game this year.
"After the spring season, I thought that was the area I needed to improve on so I could grow," said Hagiyama, who began playing football in college. "So I've become more aggressive about looking for more yardage and running for the end zone.
"I'm still teased by the two because I don't have much sense, though."
Hagiyama said that it stimulates him to play alongside two older, and better, players.
"They inspire me a lot," he said. "With Kinoshita in particular, I think I have similar mind-set when we see opposing defenses and we communicate well on the sideline. I learn a lot from him and I feel lucky to be playing together."
Meanwhile, once he takes off his Seagulls jersey, Hagiyama becomes the one who teaches, having served as the head coach for the football team at his alma mater, Tohoku University in Sendai, for the last three years.
Hagiyama, who also is an employee of a nationwide sports merchandise chain, said managing those three tasks has not been easy, but at the same time he's received so much support and understanding from the people around him.
"It was very tough last year because it was the first time that I had to coach, play and work simultaneously," he said. "But entering this year, I told the school and company that I'd focus more on my play with the Seagulls and they've been really helpful about that. So I think I've been able to concentrate more on my game this year."
And Hagiyama, who hails from Osaka Prefecture and plays for the Chiba Prefecture-based Seagulls, hopes to bring back some courage and smiles to the earthquake-hit Tohoku region, where he learned football and earned all those opportunities through the game.
"I believe there are still so many of them suffering," said Hagiyama, who along with his Tohoku University players have visited elementary schools in Sendai to hold flag football clinics lately.
"Hopefully, we can deliver some good news to them. And if I focused more on my own game and perform well, maybe I could convey some positive signs to them."