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Football camp chief thinks outside box

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

As a player, Tomotsuna Inoue wasn’t able to fulfill his wish to reach the NFL. But his dream continues, now as someone who presents a chance for Japanese youngsters to achieve that big goal.

Inoue has organized Tomotsuna Academy Football Camp as its director since last year, teaching different approaches to the participants.

In late February, Inoue and his supporters held their second camp at facilities in a rural but scenic area in the southern part of the Boso Peninsula, bringing together 46 student-athletes. The ages of the participants ran the gamut from a junior high school senior to college seniors (the positions were limited to quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers).

Inoue, a former quarterback, had tried to become the first Japanese to play in the NFL for several years. So when he started the camp project, he simply wanted to teach the participants football techniques, taking advantage of what he experienced in the United States. Eventually, he wanted to add a little more variety, which he thought would be helpful for the players’ football development.

“If you just bring football coaches in, you just teach football to those who play football,” Inoue said. “So I wanted to have some collaborations.”

For the inaugural Tomotsuna camp, held in January of 2013, in addition to football coaches, Inoue invited former national track star Dai Tamesue, who won a pair of 400-meter hurdle medals at world championships, to teach the players about sprinting.

For the second camp, held in February of this year, Inoue brought in former Olympic sprinter Nobuharu Asahara and former K-1 kickboxer Takayuki Kohiruimaki (Inoue claimed that a punching motion and a throwing a football have something in common). The participants also learned about nutrition and even took a yoga class.

Asahara said with a laugh that he didn’t really get to watch football and had never played it, but insisted his lessons would still be beneficial for the football players because they would study how to properly use their bodies.

“I think you can take advantage of (what track athletes do in their training),” said Asahara, who won a bronze medal in the men’s 4×100 relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “What’s common between track and football is running. And how they run in football is similar to track, compared with baseball and soccer.”

At the end of the day, Inoue hoped the participants learned from taking part in different things, and that it would give them a better chance to develop their football skills. He pointed out that in Japanese sports, athletes don’t really grow up experiencing different sports like in the U.S.

“Many of the NFL players do, say, track and football, or basketball and football at the same time, and I think it’s giving them a better chance to be successful in football,” Inoue said. “So I hope Japanese athletes learn from different things, not just committing themselves to one sport.”

Ultimately, Inoue wants to see someone make it to the NFL from his homeland (it’s the only one among the four major sports leagues in the U.S. that Japan has yet to have a player). In order to realistically make it happen, since the U.S. is by far the most advanced and competitive country in the sport in the world, he thinks that it’s better to send young athletes there from high school, or college at the latest, to get accustomed to the game and its culture in America as early as possible. The camp gives advice to those who want to attend schools in the States.

According to Inoue, four participants in the first camp went on to cross the Pacific and enroll in schools in the Southern California area (three at junior colleges and one at a high school). He said that three or four players in the second camp have shown strong interest in doing the same.

Actually, Inoue doesn’t intend to limit the camp to just football, and hopes to eventually hold camps for other sports.