Through his signature big jet-black sunglasses, head coach Toshiaki Abe looks at the gridiron contemplating on which players he may have to call upon this coming summer.
KAZ NAGATSUKA PHOTO
One hundred and forty three players have been assembled for the ongoing first stage of the Japanese national team’s training camp for the 3rd IFAF World Championships (American football World Cup), which will be hosted in Kawasaki from July 7-15.
The training camp consists of top players from both the X League and the collegiate ranks, such as quarterback Kentaro Namiki (Asahi Beer Silver Star) and running back Takuya Furutani (Obic Seagulls), of the X League. The players are divided into two groups and practices have been held every other weekend for each group since the beginning of this month.
What has surprised Abe is that most of the players have entered the training camps in good shape. He also feels that playing for the World Championships in front of home crowds will be a strong motivator for the team.
“The players came in in good condition, and that really opened my eyes,” Abe said at Saturday’s training camp at Nihon University’s Shimo-Takaido campus in the Setagaya Ward of Tokyo. “Their motivation level is high as well. Emotions like ‘I want to play’ were flooding out of them. But I don’t know who to pick yet.”
The Japan American Football Association hasn’t yet officially announced how many stages of training camps it will take to select the final roster.
The initial stage will last until the end of March or early April, when the roster will be cut down to about 70 or 80 players. That number will ultimately have to be reduced to 45 players, which will make up the national team’s final roster.
Japan will be playing as the two-time defending champion in the six-nation tournament. The Japanese team won the inaugural tournament in 1999 followed by another championship in 2003.
Meanwhile, one matter that troubles Abe’s selection process is the presence of the United States, which will be making its first appearance in the World Championships.
While the type of squad the homeland of American football dispatches for the tournament is still unknown, it appears that the U.S. team will consist of athletes that just missed making an NFL roster. Which still makes for an extremely high-caliber of player.
“They’re not off their guards,” Abe said of the U.S.
With the presence of the mighty U.S. team in mind, Abe plans to build his team around players with some bulk.
“Whether you can play against Japanese players doesn’t mean much,” he said. “Because you might face guys who are over two meters in the World Cup.”
Also, considering the limited number of players on the roster, Abe wants to field versatile, durable players with more stamina that can play both offense and defense.
“I’ll say no thank you to ones who say ‘I can only play offense,’ ” said Abe, adding that his squad will be young.
“But after all, after everything, it comes down to here,” Abe continued, drumming his heart. “That you love football isn’t enough. It’s not like playing in the X League or the Rice Bowl. You’ll be playing carrying the national flag on your back.”
The two teams that finish in first-place after the group stage will play in the final, which will be held at Todoroki Stadium on July 15. Japan is in Group 1 with Sweden and France, while the United States will compete in Group 2 with Germany and South Korea.
During the second stage of their training camp, the Japanese national team is scheduled to play warm-up games against two collegiate combined teams on April 15 at Kawasaki Stadium and on April 29 at Expo Flash Field in Suita, Osaka Prefecture.