Takashi Kurihara’s ultimate dream of playing in the National Football League isn’t over yet.
In fact, he feels stronger than ever.
The Japanese wide receiver tested himself at the inaugural NFL Veteran Combine on March 22 in Arizona. He was one of over 100 free agents invited by the league to participate in the event.
“We were told in a meeting on the day before (the combine) that 3,000 to 4,000 applied for this, so we should go all out,” Kurihara told The Japan Times a few days after he returned to Tokyo.
Kurihara, 27, got sick and had a high fever a couple of days before the combine, but fortunately recovered from it just in time. He said he gave a nearly perfect performance in front of the assembled coaches, scouts and executives from the various NFL clubs.
Kurihara was clocked at 4.54 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which he said was the second-fastest time at the combine. The method of timing the dash at the combine was different from that of the college combine, under which he would have had an even quicker time. The combine reportedly used an electronic timing system rather than stop watches.
Yahoo Sports’ senior NFL and investigative reporter Charles Robinson suggested on his Twitter account that the times at the Veterans Combine would have been .1 to .2 seconds faster with the college way.
Excluding times that were measured with stop watches, Kurihara, who led the IBM Big Blue of Japan’s X League to a runnerup place last season, said it was the fastest 40 time of his career.
Kurihara, a Hosei University Tomahawks product, apparently turned a few heads with his skills. He said that he caught every pass but one in one practice session. He was later asked by a Chicago Bears official (he wasn’t sure if the person was a scout or coach) to take a few extra minutes, along with a pair of others, to show what he could do so that the official could get a closer look.
“Three of us were asked by him to run from the slot, because we were only required to run outside routes (in the combine),” Kurihara said. “We ran in-and-out routes and out-and-in routes like Wes Welker (of the Denver Broncos) always does. We did that about six, seven times.”
The NFL invited some notable names for the combine, and Kurihara’s sharp plays also impressed some of them. He said that he talked to Brady Quinn, a former quarterback for several NFL teams, including the Cleveland Browns, after the combine.
“We were done with everything and got on the bus back (to the hotel), and he came to me,” Kurihara said. “He was like, ‘You were great. Where are you playing?’ I think I was standing out that much. Otherwise he wouldn’t talk to me.”
Kurihara flew to Los Angeles a week before the combine, but he confessed that he was a little nervous as he hadn’t caught passes from Americans for a while. So he visited San Diego to practice with former UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft, his teammate at IBM.
Kurihara said that Craft would throw passes at him at full strength, which he usually doesn’t in games, and was a lion-hearted coach during their practices as he helped Kurihara prepare for the combine.
“I kept dropping his passes. It wasn’t enough to catch his passes by just making a pocket with my hands. I had to really seize the ball. That’s not the case with Japanese quarterbacks, though,” Kurihara said. “But it really helped. I was able to follow (the passes at the combine) with my eyes.”
Kurihara was accepted for the combine mainly because he had participated in mini camps for the Baltimore Ravens the last two springs. But he was perhaps a different receiver than he was in the past, this time more of a complete, better athlete.
Kurihara has also been testing himself outside of football recently.
Since late last year, he’s been training with some elite Japanese track athletes, such as Ryota Yamagata (100 meters), Shota Iizuka (200 meters) and Yuzo Kanemaru (400 meters), in an attempt to increase his speed.
Through a contact of former star rugby player Daisuke Ohata, Kurihara has also participated in training camps with Japan’s national Rugby Sevens team.
Kurihara, who began playing football in high school, thought that he would raise his level as an athlete by working on different sports in the hope of getting a better chance to open the door to the NFL, which hasn’t been done by any Japanese player.
He feels his performance at the combine was better than he had done in the past, and not just because of his 40 time.
Kurihara said, for example, that he was able to run accurate post corner routes while many others couldn’t.
“You have to run at full speed and change direction toward a corner with one step, which they struggled to do, and then they couldn’t catch passes with the right timing from the quarterbacks,” he said. “I was aware of running the routes accordingly with the cones that were put on the field with the shortest distances. I think I was the best in terms of running precise routes.
“I don’t know if my rugby training helped or if my track training helped clearly, but I believe that (trying different sports) gave me nothing but help.”
At the Ravens mini camps he went to, Kurihara was a total stranger who nothing was expected of, and if he were to get any attention, he would have to prove he could contribute as a special teams player as well. But after a successful performance at the Veteran Combine, he thinks he now could be considered as a wide receiver a bit more too.
“That I’d have to contribute on special teams — that hasn’t changed,” Kurihara said. “But at this combine, I was able to show my speed and put up a performance, like my accurate route running, quickness, having good hands, and whether you can catch the ball with your hands, at a higher level.”