KAWASAKI – The Canadian Football League’s global scouting team came away “very, very impressed” by the performances of the athletes who participated in the Japanese stop of the CFL Global Combine over the weekend.
The CFL hosted the combine after the professional league and the X League, Japan’s top circuit, began a partnership in November.
The selectees will fly to Toronto for the CFL Global Combine, which is held March 26-28 for players from outside North America and followed by the CFL Global Draft in April.
The weekend’s combine was operated in conjunction with tryouts for the Japan national team. Of the 91 players who participated on Saturday, 13 were also trying out for the CFL Combine, including one who decided against pursuing a spot on the national team.
Sunday’s event was held in Osaka and drew 54 players, seven of whom were CFL combine applicants.
Players at Saturday’s event, which was held at the practice field of the X League’s Fujitsu Frontiers, went through various drills, including a 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle run, bench press and position-by-position skill workouts on a nearly perfect day with clear skies and warm temperatures.
After the first day was over, Greg Quick, the CFL’s global scouting director, told the participants he was happy to see the “consistency of excellence” throughout the day from every player, regardless of position.
“And I personally want to thank you because you made my job a lot easier,” Quick said. “In fact, you made it harder because you all played very, very hard and competed hard. I wish you all the very best and there will be a player from Japan in the CFL next year that makes a big play, guaranteed, guaranteed.”
Speaking to The Japan Times afterward, Quick said quickness and change of direction are areas where Japanese players are elite.
“So I think the athletes are very well prepared by their coaches,” he said.
When asked if the performances of the Japanese exceeded what Quick and other scout team members had expected, Quick said they came to Japan with “high expectations” because they had done “research” and “homework” in advance.
“But,” he said, “I didn’t expect the depth of talent that was displayed today.”
At the Tokyo-area event, it didn’t take long for the CFL contingent to give a player a ticket to the March combine in Toronto, with Obic Seagulls running back Taku Lee quickly catching their eye.
The 24-year-old said he had been determined to earn the invite and felt more “relief” than “surprise” when his name was called.
Lee, who competed for Japan at the 2015 world championships, said he was selected as a result of his pass-catching and blocking skills, not just his ability to carry the ball.
The Aichi Prefecture native said he’d been preparing for the combine since the end of the X League season late last year, looking at YouTube videos to get clues on how it might have been run. His efforts certainly paid off.
The CFL applies different rules (one of the major ones is there are only three downs in the CFL) and has different field dimensions (the field is longer and wider) than the NFL. The CFL game is more passing-oriented due to some of those differences.
“There’s a lot of passing and the roles for the running backs are different from the Japanese game. The game is so different,” said Lee, who ran a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash. “So I would like to keep working hard so that I will be able to prove I can be used as a blocker or receiver, too.”
Quick was satisfied with Lee’s combine performance, saying the Japanese “is a threat” with his ability to change directions, speed and ball skills.
“We play in a wide field; our running backs are used in the passing game,” Quick said. “His skillset marries with the Canadian game very, very well.”
The CFL scouting team will continue examine players by watching the film from the combines in Japan and may invite more to its Global Combine.
In addition to Japan, the CFL also held combines in other countries — mainly in Europe — including Great Britain, Germany, Sweden and Finland. The league has recently partnered with the Brazilian federation and plans to hold a combine in the South American nation as well.
“I think the sport culture in Japan is outstanding. I think it’s elite,” Quick said. “I think the mentality to interact (and) the football IQ for the Japanese players are as good as anywhere in the world. So I think they’ve got an opportunity to really make us significant impact in the Canadian Football League and football across the globe.”
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