Kicker Toshiki Sato looks closer to his dream of becoming the first Japanese player in the NFL after drawing interest from the Dallas Cowboys and Las Vegas Raiders.
The 26-year-old retained an agent after turning heads in a tryout this spring and hopes his powerful boot earns him an offer from either team ahead of the league’s planned start on Sept. 10.
“The Cowboys and Raiders are interested. I’m waiting for an offer,” Sato, who plays for X League’s IBM Big Blue, told Kyodo News in a recent interview.
“The Cowboys might be difficult since they have three kickers and one has a big contract, but the Raiders only have two. I think there’s a chance I could get an invite if those two don’t do well at the upcoming camp.”
Barring that outcome, Sato is prepared to pay his dues in the Canadian Football League as a potential springboard to the NFL.
“I was also in touch with a Canadian team and got a pretty good feeling. I’d like to play in Canada and produce good results and take that as a step,” he said. “If I play in Canada I’ll be seen by NFL scouts, and I’ll get treated better at tryouts. There’s no downside.”
After winning back-to-back high school championships, Sato attended Waseda University and in 2015 helped the school reach the Koshien Bowl, Japan’s college football national championship. Last November, he set the X League record with a 58-yard field goal for IBM.
Sato said his role on the field may give him a leg up on the other Japanese players who have tried and failed to land in the NFL.
“It’s a contact sport, so there’s a disadvantage in terms of body size and speed,” he said.
“But it’s crucial for a kicker to be clutch, considering how likely it is they can decide the outcome of the game. It’s the only position where you can fight with your mental strength and not just your physical power. Being a kicker eliminates, as much as possible, the elements that prevent Japanese people from becoming NFL players.”
Pending further developments in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Sato is hoping to be invited to a training camp when preparations for the 2020 season ramp up in late July.
“It was a blessing that I was able to try out in March (in spite of the outbreak). Spring camps weren’t held, but players are always being replaced at summer and preseason camps. I want to get ready for when I’m called.”
The Kanagawa Prefecture native said he hopes to bring something unique to the table once he turns his dream into reality.
“The first goal is playing in the NFL,” he said. “From there, I want to show that I am capable of doing something special.”