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Kinoshita puts skills to good use with Obic

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

His quickness and elusive moves certainly place him on a different sphere.

He’s also one of the few Japanese players to have had real National Football League experience.

After nearly a couple of years of a layoff, Noriaki Kinoshita was back on the gridiron, making his debut with the Obic Seagulls of the X League against the Nojima Sagamihara Rise at Tokyo Dome last Wednesday in their first contest of the season.

Though he didn’t score a touchdown, the wideout had a team-high six catches for 68 yards receiving, helping Obic to a 24-19 victory.

But by his standards, Kinoshita thought his performance was far from what he was looking for.

“I couldn’t do anything,” Kinoshita said after the game. “I think I had a few plays that I could’ve made for touchdowns. I just didn’t make it happen.”

It was actually the 28-year-old’s first regular-season game in Japan since graduating from Ritsumeikan University, where he earned a pair of national collegiate championships and an MVP award.

After graduation, Kinoshita played in the now-defunct NFL Europa and was then invited by the Atlanta Falcons to their preseason camp. He also cracked the roster of the International Practice Squad, which was established to give overseas players a chance to practice with an NFL team, and was allowed to be on the team throughout the 2008 campaign.

Having coached at his alma mater, Osaka Sangyo University High School, over the past few years, and playing for the national team once in a while, Kinoshita decided to join the Seagulls, a Central Division side, this spring.

The team is based in Narashino, Chiba Prefecture, and Kinoshita commutes to Kanto every weekend while continuing the high school coaching gig in Osaka.

But the distance didn’t bother him. He only wanted to play for a team that has the same desire as he did.

“I wanted to join Obic because what this team thinks about American football and how it wants to spread the sport in Japan in the future fit me,” Kinoshita said. “I mean, everybody, including the players, is really serious about how to make American football more popular in Japan.

“Personally, I want to make a professional league in this country, and the team was on the same page on that, too.”

For Obic, which triumphed in the national championship last season, the acquisition of Kinoshita will certainly be a boost as it attempts another title run.

“Just adding him alone, he can force the opponents’ defense to spread and it makes us easier to use a variety of plays,” Seagulls head coach Makoto Ohashi said. “He made some good plays today. We believe he gives us some latitude for our offense.”

While Kinoshita may be a nightmare for opposing defenders, he’s turned out to be a reliable presence for his own team.

Obic defensive end Karl Noa, an American, said having Kinoshita is promising for the team, which is aiming for back-to-back championships.

“He’s a really, really good player,” Noa said of Kinoshita. “He works so hard on the field. He’s always focused and goes out there trying to score a touchdown every time.

“More than anything else, he’s just a threat. I mean, you never know, you always got to be on your toes (against Kinoshita). He is just dangerous.”

Noa also said that Kinoshita is “very mature.” He indeed seems to be more composed now. He seemed like a hard-nosed, impertinent kid when he was trying out for the Falcons a few years back.

Kinoshita confessed that he was deliberately attempting to look tough that time.

“Otherwise, I thought that I would be beaten up,” Kinoshita said. “I didn’t have room to breathe over there unlike when I was in Japan. So maybe I was too harsh on those who came to visit me. But I needed to really battle at that time and couldn’t afford to be aware of anyone else but myself.”

But Kinoshita added that he certainly learned from the experience in the highest level of the sport. He said that more than technically, it is mostly mentally.

“Obviously, I have some room to breathe over here,” he said. “You’ve got to push yourself to the maximum every play over there (in the NFL), but you don’t have to over here. You have some room to breathe and enjoy,

and it actually gives you more chances to make plays.”