Reaching the NFL is every football player’s dream. And that’s no exception for Takashi Kurihara.
He wants to be the first Japanese player to make it there.
But that doesn’t mean he will take the IFAF World Championship lightly. After all, Kurihara will don a Japanese jersey for the Asian nation’s 45-man squad.
And though the 27-year-old has played in the IFAF Under-19 World Championship before, this will be the veteran wide receiver’s first appearance in a senior-level world championship.
It’s not just that he’s fired up about the opportunity to represent his country, but Kurihara — who’s participated in a pair of minicamps for the Baltimore Ravens and was invited to this spring’s NFL Veterans Combine in Arizona — is happy to be able to help the national team with his past experience as a leader.
“I’ve always wanted to be an ace player in Japanese football and wanted to be a presence that gives Japanese football some excitement,” Kurihara said. “I’ve tried to show plays that other Japanese players cannot do, and I believe that helped me go to NFL combines and camps. And now being a member of the Japanese team, this is a great opportunity for me to return something to Japanese football.”
Indeed, Kurihara knows that the team’s coaching staff is counting on his skills and experience at the upcoming tournament in Canton, Ohio.
The U.S. team is mostly comprised of collegiate players from schools that may not be so notable, but he said that the American team would still be as good as any other teams at the global championship.
“Being one of the players that knows the level of the U.S., I think we still have a long way (to go to beat the U.S.) unless we’ll develop a lot more,” Kurihara said.
In 1999, Japan won the title at the inaugural world championship, which the the Americans didn’t compete in. In the last two editions of the world championship (2007, 2011), the United States, the nation where the game was invented, captured the crown.
This time, Japan is assigned to Group A along with the U.S. and Mexico (Canada was originally in it, too, but withdrew).
After injuring his left knee, Kurihara resumed practicing a few weeks ago. So before the team’s training camps, which began late last month, he was behind other players in terms of physical condition.
“I hadn’t practiced for a while and (the team) still kept me for the second training camp,” he said, referring to the fact the national team had 79 players at the first camp, then trimmed the number to 56 for the second.”
He added: “So I’ve got to appreciate it and do what I’m supposed to do.”
Kurihara received some positive attention for his performance at the NFL Veterans Combine in late March.
Meanwhile, some had wondered if Kurihara would remain on the team even if he’d make the final roster, which was announced on Monday. They thought that Kurihara could skip worlds if he received an invitation from an NFL club for its preseason training camp.
Kurihara, however, made the point clear: he’d play for Team Japan no matter what.
“I’m planning to go to both (the world championship and an NFL training camp),” said Kurihara, adding that he hasn’t heard from an NFL club so far. “Of course there’s a chance to get hurt and people around me would say ‘Don’t do it.’ ”
But Kurihara thinks that playing in the world championship would prepare him up better for his potential challenge: to reach the NFL.
“We can play with the United States (in the world championship),” Kurihara said. “And you are going to get real tackles and stuff, and I think that’s going to be great preparation for me leading up to an NFL camp.”
Kurihara is also passionate about wanting to help raise the prestige of the Japan national team, so that every Japanese player wants to play for it.
“No matter what sports you play, it gives you extra excitement when you represent your country,” he said. “(The X League) isn’t a pro league, so we’ve got to create a situation that those who play the game at junior high, high school and college (levels) hope to become players for the national team first.
“The NFL is something everybody aims at, but at the same time it’s extremely hard to make. So it’s important for us to make them think that the national team is the team to make first before they eventually begin thinking they want to go to the NFL.”
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