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Frontiers’ Brennan embraces life in Japan

by Kaz Nagatsuka

KAWASAKI — Like a ball rolling on the field, a football player’s future is never predictable.

News photoBrad Brennan, a former University of Arizona wide receiver, will attempt to lead the Fujitsu Frontiers to their first X League title on Monday night, when the team faces the Matsushita Denko Impulse in the Japan X Bowl.
OSAMU IKEDA PHOTO

Brad Brennan never saw himself being in Japan for this long when he first landed here six years ago.

“No, never,” the 30-year-old Brennan said with a laugh. “I never thought I’d be here for this many years.”

But it wasn’t necessarily a bad outcome for Brennan, who plays for the X League’s Fujitsu Frontiers, who have advanced to Monday’s Japan X Bowl, the league’s championship game. It has become a blessing, a precious time for him both as a football player and person.

Brennan, a former University of Arizona player and a cousin of Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy final voting for this season’s most prestigious college football award in the United States on Dec. 8, came to Japan to play for the Onward Skylarks with a casual mind-set to see how he would like it and fit in here.

He later joined the Frontiers after a 1 1/2-year layoff, and this is his fifth season with the team.

Now Brennan is more closely sticking to the team and the Japanese football scene than six years ago, when he became one of the first foreign players to ever play in the X League. And he has absorbed the Japanese culture — and cultural differences — much more than the time.

Of course, the language the Japanese spoke was totally alien to him. But including that, learning something has never been a problem for Brennan, and he has actually been blessed by enjoying the processes all the time.

“The language is very difficult,” he said. “(But) I’ve been here long enough to study Japanese more and more. I had an American coach for the (first) three years, and I didn’t have to learn Japanese right away.

“And it’s been a good experience, I’ve learned a lot, fighting through limitations, fighting through adversities, language barriers. All those things helped me grow for my life in Japan and my life after football.”

Brennan, a native of Redwood City, Calif., called his teammates “my family,” and said he has a lot of respect for them because they all have day jobs, but still find time for practices and games.

“I just can’t see the system working very well in the U.S.,” Brennan, who works on promotional things for the team as his day job, said of the football circumstances in Japan.

“But the way this league is set up, I have a lot of respect for all my teammates, all the guys go to work all week, too. And everyone puts pads on, on their free off-time on free days — time away from their families and friends — because they love football and love what they do.”

Another thing he likes about Japan is, what he called, the “senpai-kohai things,” or the seniority thing, as when you belong to an organization such as sport teams, companies and schools, because you get respect from your kohai, or younger people, and learn to know how to respect your elders.

“It’s cool sometimes,” the 30-year-old Brennan said. “In the States, we have so many kids that don’t respect people elders. So I enjoy seeing the senpai-kohai things.”

Told that he is relatively a senpai rather than a kohai on the team, Brennan laughed and responded by saying, “Yeah, it’s true I’m older on this team. I never thought I would be. The first couple of years, I thought I was such a young guy.”

As he revealed this a more serious expression returned to his face.

He continued: “These guys are like brothers to me now. So it doesn’t matter who’s older and who’s younger. We’re all this one family.”

Brennan and his “family” Frontiers will next encounter their biggest challenge on Monday night at Tokyo Dome. They’ll take on the steel-curtained Matsushita Denko Impulse in the Japan X Bowl, which kicks off at 7 p.m.

Fujitsu, established in 1985, has never grabbed the league title.

Asked what kind of ballgame it’s going to be, Brennan, who was a big part of the win over the Onward Skylarks in the semifinals on Dec. 1 (101 yards receiving and a touchdown), said, “. . . They are a great team. I think everyone’s going to be impressed how each team will come out.”

He has long-term goals in Japan, too.

“I want to leave a legacy — that I helped and influenced in a positive way for Japanese football,” Brennan said of his goal.

“(I hope) people look back when I’m gone, (and) say, ‘Brad Brennan was a great guy and great football player. And he did a lot for the sport here.”