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Kinoshita’s play made big difference for Seagulls in X Bowl

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

To be a star athlete, you don’t necessarily have to play well all the time. You only need to rise to the occasion.

Noriaki Kinoshita has that star quality.

In Monday night’s Japan X Bowl at Tokyo Dome, the wide receiver scored three touchdowns and a season-best 129 yards receiving to guide the reigning champion Obic Seagulls to a thrilling 24-17 victory over the Fujitsu Frontiers.

The Frontiers played better early, holding Obic to just a field goal in the first half. But Kinoshita’s 98-yard kickoff return touchdown in the third quarter changed the mood at the Big Egg, and he further reversed the momentum with two more touchdowns in the final quarter.

Kinoshita was an easy choice to be named the game MVP.

“I’ve not been able to make contributions to the team before today’s game,” said Kinoshita, who had 404 yards receiving and four touchdowns in seven regular-season games. “But I’ve finally done something for the team.”

Kinoshita, who joined the Seagulls this year after a two-year absence from the gridiron, struggled to shake off the rust and had not been able to exhibit the type of performance he thought he could.

But at last, Kinoshita proved he is as once advertised.

Kinoshita was invited by the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons to their preseason training camp (he failed to make the final cut) in 2007, but was on the international practice squad and stayed with the Falcons throughout the 2008 season.

“Since I’d played abroad, I didn’t intend to adjust myself to other Japanese players, because I didn’t think it would be good,” Kinoshita said about resuming his playing career in Japan this year. “I tried to show my game.”

As much as Kinoshita was frustrated about his own performance, Seagulls coach Makoto Ohashi was also vexed that the team had not been able to fully use the wideout’s talents.

“For sure we had high expectations for him,” Ohashi said after Monday’s game. “But we feel like we weren’t able to use him as well as we wanted to.

“We all know he could always be as explosive as he was today.”

Meanwhile, the Japan X Bowl championship was the seventh team title in Kinoshita’s football career. He won two titles in high school, three at Ritsumeikan University and one with the Amsterdam Admirals of the now-defunct NFL Europa.

The native of Osaka Prefecture joked that he is “of the planet with the strong luck.”

Probably nobody would say that the 28-year-old Kinoshita doesn’t have good fortune. But instead of calling it luck, perhaps it should be called ability.

Asked if his eyes were opened by Kinoshita’s performance in the Japan X Bowl, teammate and defensive end Kevin Jackson replied that there shouldn’t be any surprises for anyone on the team.

“We know Nori can do that,” the 2005 X League MVP Jackson said. “He’s an amazing athlete. He’s fast, quick, special.

“So whenever there’s a chance like this, especially in a big game, he’s motivated. He can do major things when he gets the ball.”

Burress hopes for big day

AP
FLORHAM PARK, New Jersey

Plaxico Burress had plenty of memorable moments in four seasons with the New York Giants. Well, he’s planning to add another on Saturday — against them this time, as a member of the Jets.

“I definitely want to get in the end zone once, maybe twice, maybe three or four,” Burress said Wednesday. “I’m going to try and play lights-out football. My goal is to go out and play the best game I’ve played to date this season.”

That’s saying a lot, considering Burress had a three-touchdown performance against San Diego in October. But this game is extra-special for Burress, who’ll face his former teammates in the regular season for the first time.

“From a personal standpoint and more from what we need as a team,” Burress said, “if we want to get into the playoffs and make the run that we believe that we can, we need to go out and play our best football.”