Japanese running back Genta Ito felt he didn’t showcase a sufficient enough performance during his two years at Santa Monica Junior College to extend his football career.
Playing for a Division I team in college football in the United States had been his goal since he moved there when he enrolled at the junior college in Southern California. But the door was about to close.
“I qualified for some Division I schools academically, but I didn’t get permission to join their football teams,” Ito told the Japan Times. “And even after the calender hit July, I didn’t get any responses from the universities to which I’d sent my applications and I thought the possibility of me playing football in the U.S. had become a lot slimmer.”
But he received a message in mid-July, just a few of weeks before most teams began their training camps, saying he was accepted to play for the University of Hawaii.
Ito, 22, said he wasn’t ecstatic after hearing the news. Instead he was relieved, because he didn’t think he would’ve realized his dream on his own.
“As for me getting on the team, so many people, including my coaches at the junior college, gave support,” said Ito, who was part of the Santa Monica College Corsairs team that went undefeated and captured the American Pacific Conference title last year. “I earned this opportunity because of them, I didn’t get it with my own performance.”
The Inabe, Mie Prefecture-native rushed for 44 yards on 10 carries while appearing in five games in the 2015 season.
Now, Ito feels he needs to work hard and come up with positive outcomes in his new circumstances to pay back to those who supported him.
“Instead of the joy of achieving this,” he began, “I felt I needed to develop myself further from now on.”
Ito said he absorbed so many things at Santa Monica, such as the necessary fundamentals and mindset to play the game in America, where football originated.
But he added that the football circumstances at Hawaii are a lot different from those at the junior college.
“During training camp, we have two and a half hours of practice starting at 6:30 in the morning, have our meals and meetings after that, and in the afternoon, we practice again, and then have meals and meetings. So we’re wholly immersed with football from 6:30 in the morning through about 8:30 at night.
“At the junior college, the compulsory hours weren’t that long and we’d basically get together for about a couple of hours (a day) for practices.”
Ito, a 172-cm player, doesn’t think he has an edge physically over other players. It’s his work ethic and football IQ that he wants to take advantage of with the Mountain West Conference team.
“My physical ability wouldn’t be bad in Japan, but over here, in terms of physical ability and physicality, there are better players,” said Ito, who played for Hosei Daini High School before he went to Santa Monica. “So it’s important that I fully understand the plays.”
Ito, who graduated with a 3.95 GPA from Santa Monica, hinted that there’s a possibility that he could be redshirted this year.
The Rainbow Warriors, who will be led by new head coach Nick Rolovich, will open the season next Friday against the University of California in Sydney, and Ito will be traveling to Australia with the team.
The Rainbow Warriors will fly to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to take on the University of Michigan the following weekend, but Ito doesn’t know if he’ll be traveling with the team for that contest.