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Abe teaches team importance of mental focus

by Kaz Nagatsuka

KAWASAKI — It was what he’d always said it would be.

News photoJapan head coach Toshiaki Abe, wearing sunglasses and a white polo shirt, talks to his 60 players after the team’s practice on Sunday at Kawasaki Stadium. Abe addressed the significance of wearing Japan’s jerseys to the players as they continue their preparations for this summer’s IFAF World Championships.
KAZ NAGATSUKA PHOTO

But with less than two months to go until “the main event,” coach Toshiaki Abe emphasized even more to his players how honorable but burdensome it is to wear the Japanese flag, or Hinomaru, on their jerseys.

The Japanese provisional national team, now consisting of 60 players, took the field at Kawasaki Stadium on Saturday and Sunday after a half-month of rest to begin preparations for the 3rd IFAF World Championships (American Football World Cup) from July 7-15 in Kawasaki.

Both days were blessed with fair skies. Abe’s mind-set was a stark contrast: gloomy, less than thrilled about his players’ performance on the gridiron. At the end of Saturday’s practice with an X League team, the Obic Seagulls, Abe insisted that players be more serious and understand the meaning of representing their country.

“We were slovenly,” said Abe, who coaches the Asahi Beer Silver Star of the X League. “I gave them some time off to take their fatigue away. But when you have some time off, your heart often gets loose. We lacked concentration today.

“The players have got to exhibit they can do their respective roles firmly.”

Having led Japan to two consecutive World Championships titles, Abe knows what it takes to win the big game. In conversations with him, words such as “heart” and “concentration” are often heard from his mouth. And actually, he focuses on how to build an energetic, aggressive mentality for his players, rather than how to develop their techniques.

“Technique-wise, I already know what they can do (from X League games),” Abe said. “What I want them to show is nothing but concentration, because we’ve got to play three games in less than 10 days.”

The squad will be reduced to 45 men, which is the number of players on a team at the world championships by rule, before the tourney. Abe said that since 45 is a low number for a football squad, he wants to include some players who are versatile enough to line up at multiple positions.

Of course, each player’s mental level, including motivation and concentration, will certainly be a significant criteria, Abe said.

Abe’s squad is scheduled to play warmup games almost every weekend until the world championships. To get used to the size of bigger foreign players, the team will play against the team of the United States Forces Japan on Sunday and June 17 at Kawasaki Stadium.

Japan cannot “be overwhelmed by the size (at the world championships),” Abe said of the main focus in taking on the U.S. Forces Japan team. “Foreign players’ heights are not what we see in this nation. We’ve had games against collegiate teams so far, but it will be different taste for us.”

Abe always wears jet-black sunglasses on the field, so it’s kind of hard to peep into his mind from his appearance. But perhaps the flame of the resourceful general has started to burn up already.

Here’s the breakdown of Japan’s provisional national team roster:

OFFENSE: Tetsuo Takata, QB; Yuichi Tomizawa, QB; Kentaro Namiki, QB; Masahiro Ishino, RB; Yusuke Shinshi, RB; Koji Sugisawa, RB; Takuya Furutani, RB; Yasuhiro Hashizume, TE; Takuro Mayuzumi, TE; Akihito Amaya, WR; Yoshinobu Imoto, WR; Satoshi Kawase, WR; Ken Shimizu, WR; Satoshi Shimizu, WR; Kazuya Togura, WR; Yu Nakajima, WR; Shoei Hasegawa, WR; Kazuyuki Maeda, WR; Naoki Maeda, WR; Koji Yoneyama, WR; Ken Izawa, OL; Hiroyuki Kudo, OL; Kazuhiro Kuramochi, OL; Shingo Saito, OL; Haruhisa Hiramoto, OL; Tsukasa Miyamoto, OL; Yuta Murai, OL; Takanari Murakami, OL; Hayato Yamagishi, OL; Naoki Yamamoto, OL.

DEFENSE: Koichi Kakuta, DL; Mitsunori Kihira, DL; Shinji Saoka, DL; Motoyuki Hirai, DL; Yasuyoshi Miwa, DL; Ichiro Yatani, DL; Masayoshi Yamanaka, DL; Takayuki Yoneda, DL; Yasuo Wakisaka, DL; Kentaro Azuma, LB; Naoki Kosho, LB; Tomonori Sugimoto, LB; Shoichiro Suzuki, LB; Masayoshi Tsukada, LB; Hironobu Hoshida, LB; Takashi Makiuchi, LB; Daisuke Yasukawa, LB; Kenta Kudo, DB; Takahiro Sakai, DB; Tadanari Sano, DB; Yasumasa Tamanoi, DB; Takayuki Terada, DB; Ken Osada, DB; Masahiro Nomura, DB; Takeshi Miyake, DB; Kyohei Yasuda, DB; Toshihiro Yamada, DB; Yuichi Watanabe, DB.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Yosuke Kaneoya, K/P; Yutaka Yamaguchi, K/P.

TICKET GIVEAWAY: The Japan Times is offering 10 pairs of tickets to its readers for Japan’s warmup game against the U.S. Forces Japan team on Sunday at Kawasaki Stadium. Applicant should send a postcard with his/her address, name, age, sex, occupation and phone number to: The Japan Times American Football World Cup Ticket Present, P.O. Box 22, Arakawa Post Office, Tokyo, 116-0013. It has to arrive by Thursday. The winners will be notified upon arrivals of tickets.

NFL EUROPA UPDATE: Wide receiver Noriaki Kinoshita of the Amsterdam Admirals (2-3) started against the Hamburg Sea Devils (3-2) in a game on Saturday, recording 23 yards on two receptions and 38 yards on two kickoffs. Hamburg won 24-17.

Kinoshita, a third-year former Ritsumeikan University player, increased his career receiving yards to 320, the most in the league for a Japanese player. Kinoshita surpassed ex-player Masato Itai, who had 302 yards.

Safety Ryota Hori, meanwhile, made his fifth straight appearance for the Sea Devils.