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Nihon University defenseman Taisuke Miyagawa makes return to gridiron

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

Nihon University Phoenix defensive lineman Taisuke Miyagawa returned to practice on Thursday for the first time since his controversial May 6 tackle on Kwansei Gakuin Fighters quarterback Kosei Okuno drew international attention, according to Phoenix head coach Isao Hashizume.

Miyagawa’s attorneys released a statement on Wednesday night announcing that the 20-year-old would again take part in team activities.

“I spoke with him for over an hour in the middle of August. Initially, he said he had no intention to return,” Hashizume said of Miyagawa, who was not made available to the media on Thursday. “But as we spoke further, I could feel he still loves football. By the end of our talk he’d changed his mind.

“As educators, we’re responsible for teaching students and sending them out into society,” Hashizume continued. “In my opinion, we have to educate Miyagawa in terms of football because he engaged in misconduct in football. He should be given the chance to correct it with the Phoenix. My players agreed with my opinion.”

During the infamous May contest, Miyagawa delivered an illegal tackle to Okuno from behind after the quarterback threw an incomplete pass and the whistle had blown, receiving a 15-yard penalty. Okuno was injured on the play and required three weeks to recover.

Miyagawa committed two more personal fouls during the same drive, after which he was ejected from the game.

In a nationally-televised news conference on May 22, Miyagawa apologized for the incident and said the tackle was made on the orders of former Nihon University head coach Masato Uchida and ex-assistant coach Tsutomu Inoue, both of whom were given lifetime bans from the Kantoh Collegiate Football League as a result of the scandal. Miyagawa said at the time that he would retire from football, insisting he “(didn’t) have the right to continue playing.”

Four months later, he reconsidered and returned to the Phoenix, who are suspended for the 2018 season.

“I decided to quit football and said so in the news conference, but since then I’ve felt irresponsible for doing nothing to help my teammates, who are trying to establish a new team,” said, Miyagawa, who is in his junior year. “When I met the new coach (Hachizume) over the summer, he asked me to come back to the team. So did my teammates when I met them to apologize in August.

“I’m going to break my promise, but I would like to make up for all the trouble I caused for my teammates and help rebuild the club together.”

Kwansei Gakuin also issued a statement, saying: “We support Miyagawa’s return to the club and respect his brave decision with the determination to face his critics. We hope he contributes toward rebuilding the Nihon University Phoenix with his teammates.”