As a boy, Boise State University tight end Holden Huff grew up watching Japanese anime such as Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon and Digimon, though back then he had no idea they were from the other side of the Pacific Ocean.
But Huff eventually found out, while learning about other aspects of the country, and it only strengthened his ambition to visit Japan one day.
Now he’s gotten his wish. Huff is currently visiting Japan for the first time, spending time daily with the Hosei University football team. He arrived last week and is scheduled to fly back to the United States Tuesday.
But it wasn’t necessarily football that brought him to Kanto. Well, being a football player at Boise State certainly helped, because the school has a partnership with Hosei, but his bottomless desire to come to Japan was perhaps the driving force.
“Japan interested me a lot when I was a kid with the shows that I watched, or the history that I learned of Japan, respect, patience . . . everything about Japan’s culture really interested me when I was younger,” Huff told The Japan Times at the Hosei team’s clubhouse in Kawasaki’s Nakahara Ward.
“I decided halfway through college, I was like, ‘You know what, let’s make my dream serious.’ I realized as it was coming to an end, at least in college, I was like, ‘Maybe I should start thinking about my future,’ and that’s when Japan popped up again.”
Tetsuya Ihara, who teaches Huff’s Japanese class at Boise State, helped connect the player with the Hosei University Tomahawks football team.
Huff doesn’t have many obligations during his overseas visit and can spend time relaxing, and hanging out with the Tomahawks players and staff.
Interestingly, Huff is homestaying at a Buddhist temple, which is also home to one of the football team’s senior defensive backs, Koki Miyamoto, near the team facility.
“Oh, god, nicer than anyone has, honestly,” Huff said, when asked if the Miyamoto family has embraced the big 198-cm American well. “They’ve been extremely nice to me, making breakfast and stuff like that.
“Everyone here, everyone in Japan has been so nice to me. That’s really amazing.”
But the nicer they are, the more irritated Huff, a communication major, has become, as he feels he hasn’t been able to communicate with them in a sufficient enough manner because of his language skill.
“It’s frustrating for me not being able to speak Japanese because I can’t,” Huff said. “I’m not able to express who I am. I don’t know if I’m getting my point across on how thankful I really am, how nice everyone has been to me. That’s why I’m eager when I get back to America to just study Japanese, so when I come back I’ll be better, at least I can understand stuff and get used to the speed of talking.”
In fact, Huff doesn’t consider that he has fulfilled his dream by visiting Japan. This is more like the start of it for him.
“I want to slowly integrate myself either to working or living here full time, being fluent (in Japanese), which is my ultimate dream,” Huff said. “Any way to be connected would be great.”
Huff, a Rocklin, California, native, has observed the Tomahawks, a five-time Koshien Bowl national champion, practice on their unusual blue turf, which is nearly identical to Boise State’s Albertsons Stadium, which is dubbed “the Blue.”
Huff said that he was amazed by the Tomohawks’ skill level.
“I wanted to talk to the team and kind of like reluctant to do that now, because everything I was going to talk about, they already have embraced,” said Huff, who racked up 128 yards on 10 receptions in 13 games in 2014 for the Broncos. “It’s pretty awesome.”
The football facilities for the Mountain West Conference team must be far better than those at Hosei, but Huff insists that football shouldn’t be about facilities, and the way the Tomahawks players work hard and share the excitement with their teammates reminds him of what the game really is all about.
“I feel like this place is like football should be,” Huff said. “And I love it, I love it a lot.”
Asked if he is considering turning pro after his graduation, Huff, who’s currently rehabbing from a shoulder surgery, needed a while to respond. It’s every football player’s dream to play in the NFL, but the presence of Japan looms large in his mind.
“That was an interesting topic for me and my family,” Huff said. “My father wants me to play, and continue to play. He wants me to play in the NFL. My coaches tell me that I should shoot for that. And that was the thing that’s been most difficult for me because I have a dream of coming to Japan and living here.
“The money aspect of the NFL makes it look nice. But I never wanted football to be a job. I always played football because I loved football, not because it can make me a bunch of money.”
Huff is already familiar with the X League, Japan’s semi-pro top football league. And he was quicker to respond to a question regarding whether he wants to try out for it.
“Definitely interested,” Huff said of the X League. “I actually want to talk to some of the players who I found in the United States who actually played (in the X League). I’d like to speak with them to ask them about their experiences stuff like that.”