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Football coach Kawata finds a home at Stanford

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Sometimes life takes a drastic turn with a bit of determination. Football coach Tsuyoshi Kawata’s tale is a good example of that.

A former established offensive lineman and coach for the X League’s Obic Seagulls while working as a company employee at Recruit Co., Ltd., Kawata decided to leave Japan to pursue his coaching career in the home of American football three years ago.

A good opportunity came in 2005, when he was invited to a rookie camp of the Jim Mora Jr.-led Atlanta Falcons, capitalizing on his relationship with Robert Prince, a man with mixed Japanese and American heritage who was an offensive coordinator for the Seagulls in 1996-97. (He currently serves as an assistant wide receivers coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.)

“Basically, Mora Jr.’s practices were closed (to outsiders), but I was fortunately able to get in,” Kawata, 38, told The Japan Times late last month in Tokyo.

At the camp, Kawata got to meet Chris Dalman, a former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman who was then an assistant for the Dirty Birds. Dalman is a Stanford alumnus and later returned to his alma mater to take a coaching spot from the 2006 season to 2008.

Kawata then plotted his next move. After corresponding with Dalman, he headed to Northern California in the spring of 2007 to give coaching a shot at Stanford.

“I was thinking, if I had a chance to go, I wanted to go to a top-level place,” said Kawata, who played for Japan in the 1999 IFAF American football World Cup. “Dalman returned to Stanford at that time. So I contacted him, and decided to go.”

So, did he get a gig right away? No. Not that quick.

Naturally, Kawata realized it would be difficult to land a spot on the Stanford Cardinal football program as a foreigner.

But that didn’t stop him.

At first, he handled humble tasks, such as doing laundry for the team.

“I needed to make them think that it would be a terrible thing for them if I was gone,” he said. “So I worked like a horse and they eventually asked me to come back.”

Gradually gaining respect on and off the field, Kawata eventually made his presence more visible for the Cardinal. He has served as an offensive volunteer assistant for former NFL quarterback and Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh’s team for the past three seasons.

Kawata’s duties include all of the typical offensive assistant’s tasks, from helping the running game coordinator and offensive line coach to breaking down opposing teams by watching film before each game.

Also, Kawata’s eye for details has served him well, helping him find his niche at Stanford, a Pac-10 Conference school with a 17-20 record over the past three seasons.

“When I point out detailed things, such as the alignment of the offensive line, it pleases them,” said, Kawata, who is called “TK” by his friends and colleagues. “I also prepare documents like graphs, using an Excel file or such things. That pleases them, too.”

Kawata said with a laugh that his 13-year experience as a company employee at Recruit certainly helped.

Not surprisingly, though, one of Kawata’s biggest issues on foreign soil is the language barrier. But even that he’s been able to overcome with his natural-born cheerful personality.

Shinzo Yamada, his longtime friend and the new head coach for the IBM Big Blue of the X League, said that Kawata’s most positive trait is that he can talk to anyone without fear.

“TK isn’t timid, that’s his great characteristic,” said Yamada, who played in the NFL Europe and the XFL.

The opportunity at Stanford and his frank personality have given him other rare encounters off the gridiron as well.

The Saitama native has been blessed with chances to meet some high-profile people, such as former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and current U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos. Both Rice and Roos are Stanford alumni, and according to Kawata, they are big supporters of the school’s athletic programs, including the football team. (Rice currently serves as a political science professor at the school).

Kawata doesn’t have a luxurious lifestyle, certainly not one that many people would be envious of. But he’s enjoying his life and a job that a lot of individuals with football ties would like to have.

Kawata said he has no intention of returning to Japan in the future. Instead, he wants to remain in America to fulfill his ultimate objective and help guide a future Japanese pioneer to make history.

“My biggest goal is to produce a Japanese NFL player,” Kawata said.