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Inoue continues to chase NFL dream

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

People may laughingly call Japanese quarterback Tomotsuna Inoue’s challenge reckless, but he isn’t letting that stand in his way.

Inoue desperately wants to become an NFL player. The 26-year-old is currently in the United States, traveling all over the country looking for an opportunity to get invited by an NFL club to a training camp or tryout over the summer.

“In any field, there are always those people who say someone’s challenge is impossible,” Inoue said. “But they’ve never challenged the NFL as a quarterback and I’m doing that right now. So I’m the one who understands the possibility most and I do believe there’s a chance out there.”

Inoue isn’t the first Japan-born player to attempt to make it onto the NFL gridiron, but the way he’s trying to do it is probably unprecedented.

The native of Osaka Prefecture, who is based in Los Angeles, has flown to NFL cities, from Chicago, to New York, to Foxboro, Massachusetts, to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to visit the teams’ offices — without an appointment — to hand out his highlight DVDs and negotiate with them in the hope of earning a chance for a private workout. (He even went to the house of Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, though he wasn’t there.)

The long, coast-to-coast journey sometimes exhausts him, but at the same time it’s given him some fruitful learning experiences. For instance, Inoue got the chance to train with New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Moeaki on different occasions in Los Angeles.

“All of the NFL players I’ve met were trying to always improve, not being satisfied with where they were,” Inoue said. “Obviously they make a lot of money, but still try to control themselves.”

“We don’t have the NFL Europe and International Practice Squad (selected international players were assigned to the practice squads of several NFL teams) anymore, and it’s made it much more difficult for non-Americans to enter the NFL,” said Inoue, who took over the starting quarterback role in the middle of his sophomore season at Waseda University.

“But I still want to be an NFL player and unless you take action, nothing’s going to happen. So that’s why I’ve been in direct contact with the teams to advertise myself.”

Standing at 190 cm with a weight of 98 kg, Inoue said that he doesn’t feel inferior physically. And he added that he also has confidence in his pass precision, mobility and moves inside the pocket.

“I’ve come to think that the NFL isn’t as great as other Japanese people say now,” said Inoue, who played for the Amarillo Dusters and Tri-Cities Fever of the arenafootball2 league in the 2009 season (he was acquired by the Utah Blaze of the league’s first division for the 2009 season but it was cancelled because of recession).

“I believe that there’s a chance a Japanese can play there.”

Meanwhile, though he’s currently traveling the North American continent by himself, Inoue has received financial backing to achieve his dream from many supporters in Japan.

Inoue has raised money for the stay and travel in the States through a new funding concept called “got your back,” which is run by a Japanese company based in California, gturbk, Inc. Instead of asking companies for support money, he asked individuals to finance him from a minimum amount of ¥1,000 (paid by PayPal).

So far, nearly 200 people have helped him to collect about ¥1.3 million yen through it.

Inoue stayed in the States training between September 2010 and August of last year but had to come home for financial reasons.

“I can’t say anything but appreciation to those people,” Inoue said. “There wouldn’t have been this challenge of mine this time without their financial support.”

Inoue returned to the U.S. in June of this year and doesn’t intend to come home right away. Even if he is not invited by a team for its preseason training camp, which starts at the end of this month, he will remain in the U.S., looking for a chance at possible tryouts in August.

“I know the chance may not be so big,” said Inoue, who plans to visit a few more West Coast clubs. “But I’m still making this attempt, putting all my energy for the slim chance.”