/

Stanton finds niche in Japan as tight end, teacher

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Football player John Stanton is one of the IBM BigBlue’s most feared offensive weapons.

Funny thing is, he didn’t land in Japan expecting to play the game.

As a matter of a fact, the American was an English-language teacher in rural Mie Prefecture when he arrived in Japan.

But last year, he happened to find a great opportunity to continue his football career, which was once expected to be over when he graduated from NCAA Division III St. John’s (Minnesota) University.

Jim Nelson, one of the coaches for Stanton’s high school team, Marin Catholic in San Rafael, California, introduced him to another former Marin Catholic player, Albert Griffin, who was already playing for IBM.

Stanton learned about the Japanese top league through Griffin, which helped lead to his current opportunity.

“After about six months of working (in Japan), I heard about the X League and I still had the desire to play,” Stanton, 25, said recently. “I tried out and luckily I made good connections with Shinzo (Yamada, a former XFL player and the current head coach of the Big Blue).

“I had a chance to play with the team during the spring (in 2012). After that, I was able to move up to Chiba, and continued to play.”

Stanton, who stands at 188 cm and weighs in 96 kg, was primarily a linebacker in high school and college. But on the BigBlue, who are based in Yachiyo, Chiba Prefecture, he was asked to play tight end because the team already had a pair of Americans in Griffin and Jabali Miller on defense.

The acquisition became a big hit for IBM. Stanton has excelled as one of the best players for the team’s offense, which is led by former UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft.

Craft referred to Stanton as “the diamond in the rough.”

“When he was first playing, we used him a lot to block and he was OK,” said Craft, who also joined the club last year. “But then, he started making plays, catching the ball a lot and really doing some impressive things.

“So we started to stand him up and put him in during receiver sets and tight end sets, which was awesome because I don’t have to change personnel.”

Stanton, meanwhile, said that in his second full season playing that position for IBM, he still felt like he makes mistakes on a daily basis.

But he added that he is fortunate to be playing on a team that has great teammates and staff to provide support.

“I’m still evolving as a player,” Stanton, a native of San Rafael, California, said of himself as a tight end. “I’m just trying to learn something every day and keep moving forward.”

Craft broke the league’s single-season record for passing yards, amassing 1,628 last year. He said Stanton was definitely a big part of his success.

As an example, Craft mentioned a bubble screen that Stanton caught and turned into a 70-yard gain.

“He has the ability to break long runs, which is really a special thing out of a tight end to get that,” Craft said. “He definitely was a major contributor last year. I’m looking forward to him playing hard.”

Stanton, who exerts himself on many special-team plays as well, has put up another big year for the BigBlue, who are currently 2-2 this season. He has 156 receiving yards and is tied for the league-high with six touchdowns.

“From where we started last year, it’s a completely different team,” said Stanton, who still teaches English off the field in Tokyo and Chiba. “I think we’ve grown closer as one unit playing better together as a team. We know what it takes to win more this year.”