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Former Seagulls star Kevin Jackson hopes to see Japanese players thrive at Hula Bowl

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Kevin Jackson, one of the most successful U.S. players to have ever competed in Japan’s football scene, is concerned about the lack of chances local players have to compete abroad with the ambition of one day playing in the sport’s motherland.

He hopes late January will be the beginning of a new opportunity, when the Hawaiian island of Oahu hosts the Hula Bowl at Aloha Stadium.

Three Japanese players will be participating in the postseason college all-star competition, which will be played for the first time in 12 years.

The three were to be selected Sunday through the Japan American Football Combine at Kobe University Elecom Ground.

Jackson, who retired as a defensive end after last season and now serves as a defense/kicking coach for the X League’s Obic Seagulls, oversees the combine as its director of the football operations. Speaking with The Japan Times, the 38-year-old said he was excited about the opportunity because it could be an undertaking that “grows into something huge” for Japanese football going forward.

Japanese players were previously offered more opportunities to test their skills at a higher level outside Japan, through the now-defunct NFL Europe and the NFL International Combine.

But that has not been the case in recent years, and Jackson isn’t even sure if the NFL remains a dream for many Japanese players.

“There are (few) opportunities, little chance for guys to actually show their stuff and get the NFL’s attention,” said Jackson, a former University of Hawaii standout who established himself in Japanese football after he arrived in 2005.

“Another thing that’s kind of unfortunate about that is that since there is (this) atmosphere now, there’s virtually no chance to get to the NFL. A lot of the kids, or the younger players that are playing, that’s not their goal, because they view (reaching the NFL) as something that’s not real, something that’s not attainable.”

Jackson said some of Japan’s top players have “base talent” and he expressed confidence that Japan would be able to dispatch three capable players to the Hula Bowl.

He stated that the ability of Japanese players has been proven by players such as wide receivers Noriaki Kinoshita and Takashi Kurihara, both of whom participated in NFL training camps in the past, as well as others who have competed in NFL Europe.

“There’s talent here,” said Jackson, who was the X League’s Most Valuable Player in 2005 and helped the Seagulls win multiple X League and Rice Bowl titles. “But I don’t think the talent has been exposed. It’s been overlooked to some extent. And I think some guys here have base talent.”

Jackson emphasized that Japanese players have a chance to develop even further if they are placed in the right environment and exposed to more competitive surroundings outside of Japan.

He hopes the opportunity of playing in the Hula Bowl can open doors for Japanese players.

Applicants for the Japan combine were to be evaluated through skills tests such as the 40-yard dash, bench press, position drills and scrimmages.

The latest Hula Bowl will feature players from all NCAA divisions as well as international players from Japan and Australia.

Rex Ryan and Mike Smith, former head coaches of the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons, respectively, will serve as the game’s head coaches.

Scouts from the NFL, CFL and XFL are expected to be in attendance.

The Hula Bowl, which was first played in 1947, has hosted a number of future NFL stars. Pittsburgh’s Tony Dorsett (1977) and Dan Marino (1983), Florida State’s Deion Sanders (1989) and Texas’ Ricky Williams are among those decorating the list of the game’s past MVP winners.

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