Football

Strong-legged IBM kicker aims to be NFL's first Japanese player

Kyodo

Although the new coronavirus pandemic has put much of the world's sports on hold, Toshiki Sato still aspires to become the first Japanese player in America's National Football League.

A 26-year-old kicker for the X League's IBM BigBlue, Sato holds the record for Japan's longest field goal. He attended a tryout in the United States this spring, and after encouraging results there has retained an agent.

"I want to be the first Japanese NFL player," Sato said recently.

Sato, who began playing in his third year of high school before going on to play for Waseda University, has developed impressive accuracy and range. Last November he set the X-League record by kicking three points from 58 yards out.

After graduating from Waseda in the spring of 2016, Sato joined a real estate company and began playing for IBM. But his trajectory changed dramatically that June after attending the Japan Kicking Academy, where he met coach Michael Husted.

A former kicker who spent nine seasons in the NFL, Husted encouraged the budding athlete to set his sights on the NFL, and Sato committed to that goal.

Sato quit his job in August and the following year began traveling to the United States to begin his quest. This past March he ranked No. 1 in kickoff distance in a tryout, then hired an agent as a number of NFL teams began reaching out to him.

But Sato's next step is yet to come as the NFL, like many other sports leagues around the world, has been forced to wait and see when it is safe to resume activities.

When the time is right and if he makes the grade, Sato said he will have one critical failure in university to thank for his growth.

With 3 seconds remaining in the 2015 Koshien Bowl, Japan's college football championship, he missed from 52 yards out in Waseda's 28-27 loss to Ritsumeikan University.

"That regret is my driving force," Sato said. "When I fulfill my dream of playing in the NFL, I'll look back on it and be thankful for having that experience."

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