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Elecom Kobe linebacker Takahashi juggles duties as player, college coach

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Mutsumi Takahashi made up his mind to dedicate himself to coaching when he retired as a player for good two years ago.

But the 37-year-old couldn’t resist the attraction of putting on the pads and helmet. After a year’s absence, he returned to the gridiron as a linebacker for the Elecom Kobe Finies in the X League this year.

For four seasons from 2009, Takahashi played for the Obic Seagulls while he was also the head coach at Otemon Gakuin University, coming and going between Osaka and Chiba, and he felt he was leaving things half-done with both jobs.

“Considering my future, I knew that I had to raise my skills as a coach rather than as a player, so I was torn,” Takahashi, who landed a job as kicking coordinator for the Kobe University Ravens this year, said of his decision to resume his playing career.

“But at the end of the day, I felt like, you only have one life and you should do this as long as your body allows you to to.”

Takahashi had also played for the Fujitsu Frontiers and Asahi Drinks Challengers before the Seagulls. He is a Mr. Versatile in Japanese football. Though he’s primarily been used as a wide receiver, the native of Saitama Prefecture played as a linebacker and defensive back as well.

And for Elecom Kobe, which has posted a 5-1 record in the 2014 campaign, Takahashi, a former Arena Football League player, opted to play the defensive position so he could take advantage of his past experience and knowledge on the offensive side of ball.

“I’ve been an offensive coordinator and I can read what the offense would do depending on the situations,” he said. “So I know what the defense should do to stop the offense. In terms of what the defense has to take care, I have an amount of experience and that’s my strength.”

Takahashi’s weekly schedule is filled with double duties. He commutes to Kobe University to coach on weekdays and practices for the Finies on weekends. And for his coaching gig at Kobe University, Takahashi approaches his players a little differently than how he had previously done.

Takahashi was one of two Japanese collegiate coaches who were invited to the NFL Pro Bowl back in January. He said that he’s completely aware of what he observed in Hawaii when he instructs his players.

In Japanese sports in general, the athletes act as they are ordered to do by their coaches, but Takahashi was inspired by the NFL coaches, who were working with the players while communicating with each other.

“At Kobe University, many of our guys had never played the game (before college),” Takahashi said. “So you have to know that, and suggest things like, ‘Why don’t you do this?’ ‘Maybe you might want to do this?’ rather than ‘Do this, do that’ unsparingly. That’s what (Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck) Pagano was doing (at the Pro Bowl).”

As for his relaunched career as a player, Takahashi didn’t even give a rough idea of how many more years he would hit the field.

“When I was done with Otemon, I thought I’d play for a year,” said Takahashi, who’s accumulated 12½ tackles and one interception this season. “But as long as I can play, I want to absorb as many things as I can.”

Takahashi will face his old club, Obic, on Nov. 16 at Osaka’s Kincho Stadium as the Finies attempt to earn a berth in the four-team final stage.