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TOP > What’s New > New Seagulls QB Woolsey makes fine connections in debut

What’s New

New Seagulls QB Woolsey makes fine connections in debut

’17.04.24

Seagulls quarterback Ikaika Woolsey uncorks a pass in the first quarter against the Pirates

 

 

 

KAWASAKI (April 23)—When their American quarterback bolted after one season, the Obic Seagulls turned to their most tried and true method of finding a replacement. They went to Hawaii.

 

Ikaika Woolsey recently became the latest member of the team with a Hawaiian connection, and two months after arriving in Japan, made the kind of debut that can only boost hopes for a team looking to rebuild a once-mighty dynasty.

 

Woolsey passed for four touchdowns and ran for another as the Seagulls rambled to a non-surprising 65-0 rout of the Meiji Yasuda PentaOcean Pirates in their opening game of the Pearl Bowl tournament at Fujitsu Stadium Kawasaki.

 

“It felt great,” said Woolsey, a San Francisco native who played at the University of Hawaii. “Anytime you come out here and play football, it’s always a good time. But more importantly, I definitely felt real good about how we played today.

 

“The offensive linemen did a great job of giving me time to deliver the ball, and the receivers did a good job of making big plays for me on the outside. It definitely made my job really easy today, and I’m definitely happy with the way the boys played.”

 

The Seagulls’ win capped the first weekend of action, in which there were no surprises—on the field, that is—as the powerhouses all overwhelmed lower-ranked foes. On Saturday, the defending Pearl Bowl champion IBM BigBlue rolled over the Bulls 34-3 and the Lixil Deers crushed the newly promoted Fuji Xerox Minerva 52-6. In the early game Sunday, the Fujitsu Frontiers battered the Keishicho Eagles 49-0. The top team in each three-team round-robin group advances to the semifinals.

 

Woolsey, who graduated in December and joined the Seagulls after passing a tryout in February, played the entire first half Sunday, completing 6 of 10 passes for 134 yards. Two of his incompletions were on overthrows on bombs, an indication not only of his arm strength, but his capability of making big plays once the kinks in timing are worked out.

 

Offensive coordinator Daniel Lynds said the missed passes were not a factor in his high evaluation of Woolsey’s performance.

 

“I loved it,” Lynds said. “No delay of games, no penalties, no turnovers. That’s kind of what I look at. I don’t care about an overthrow, I don’t care about any of that stuff. But I like the way that he controlled the team. That’s what he needs to do in the spring, that’s what we want him to do.”

 

Veteran offensive tackle Kai Maiava also gave his new teammate high marks.

 

“Maybe a little first-game jitters in the huddle, but other than that, he calmed down and was performing out there,” Maiava said. “The guys all respect him and they’re starting to trust him, which is very important as a QB. I think he did a good job today. He had four touchdowns, so you can’t go bad with that.”

 

Woolsey was brought in to replace Jerry Neuheisel, who left after a single season despite helping Obic advance to the Japan X-Bowl, where the Seagulls lost 16-3 to Fujitsu. Neuheisel, however, could never secure the starting job from veteran Shun Sugawara, which may have been a factor in his departure. Backup quarterback Takushiro Hata also left the team.

 

The 31-year-old Sugawara, the star of the Seagulls team that won an unprecedented four league and national titles from 2010 to 2013, split the quarterbacking duties in the second half Sunday with rookie Takeshi Masukawa. Both completed 2 of 2 passes, with Sugawara throwing a magnificent 30-yard touchdown pass while Masukawa had an 11-yard touchdown run.

 

Woolsey accepts the fact that Sugawara is still in the mix for playing time, and has embraced him as a teammate in an Island brotherly fashion and the way they push each other to higher levels.

 

“He’s a great guy, a great teammate, also a good dude off the field,” Woolsey said. “Obviously, I know it’s a little hard for him, me coming in here. Obviously, he’s the veteran. But he took me in, showed me some things with the offense.

 

“But he’s a baller, he definitely gets it done. He was 2 for 2 with a touchdown today. If something happens to me, he can step in a make good plays. Him being there definitely makes me get better and work harder, because he pushes me everyday. But at the end of the day, we’re teammates, we’re brothers.”

 

In the end, it’s all about winning a championship, and Woolsey knows the history of the team and the expectations on him.

 

“I told the boys, too, when I first came that I feel like it’s my responsibility to bring the Obic Seagulls back to that winning tradition. That four-peat back in 2010 and 2013. And there’s no reason why we can’t be there this year. I’m definitely happy with the way things are going, but [the championship is] a long time from now. We got to keep building, keep moving forward.”

 

The connection that brought Woolsey to the Seagulls goes back even farther than those dynasty years. Woolsey was introduced to Obic by an “uncle” in Hawaii, David Stant, the coach of the Seagulls’ first championship teams when they were sponsored by Recruit in the late 1990s. Then there is the fact his offensive line coach was the father of current Seagulls’ teammate and defensive end B.J. Beatty.

 

Beatty and Maiava are both Hawaiian natives, while Obic’s fourth American player, defensive end Kevin Jackson, like Woolsey, went to the University of Hawaii. Having such a bond has made the transition easier.

 

“They’re the senpais [senior members] of the team, they’re definitely showing me ropes, how to do things,” Woolsey said.

 

While Woolsey replaced Neuheisel, the two are quite different types of quarterbacks. The 1.85-centimeter, 95-kilogram Woolsey seems to have a stronger arm and be more of a scrambler.

 

“We’re trying to use his abilities, rather than trying to mold him around us,” Lynds said. “We want to use what he has. He’s got a lot of stuff, I’ll just leave it at that.”

 

The knock on Woolsey might be his accuracy. In 35 career games at Hawaii, he completed 338 of 684 passes (49.4 percent) for 4,233 yards, and had 24 touchdowns and 28 interceptions.

 

On his first play from scrimmage Sunday from the Pirates 39, Woolsey winged a pass into the end zone that went beyond the hands of speedster Noriaki Kinoshita, who would return the opening kickoff of the second half 82 yards for a touchdown. Woolsey then completed his next two passes, the second a 17-yard score to Akimitsu Mori.

 

“Nori ran a great route, I definitely threw a little too far on that one,” Woolsey said. “But it will come with the timing. Obviously, we only get reps on the weekends, but we try to keep working, keep getting better.”

 

There could be no faults found in his third touchdown pass, a superb 35-yard strike that perfectly led Shono Takagi on a post pattern midway through the second quarter. On the Pirates’ next play from scrimmage, defensive lineman Yoshihiro Nakada intercepted a batted pass at the Pirates 11. From there, Woolsey kept the ball on an option and raced about the right end into the end zone.

 

What might trouble Woolsey most in Japan is how the locals pronounce his first name. “The funny thing is when I came out here, a lot of Japanese guys were calling me ‘ika-ika’–squid-squid,” he said.

 

For the record, it is “i-kai-ka,” which means “strength” in Hawaii, he said.

 

Meanwhile, the day that saw a routine rout came to an emotional end for the Seagulls, but for a reason that had nothing to do with football. Amid the nightly chill that had descended on the stadium, Beatty stole the spotlight when, in front of teammates and fans, he stunned his girlfriend Shiena Ishihara by proposing.

 

Under the guise that her role was to give him a bouquet in a post-game ceremony to commemorate his being named the team MVP for 2016, he dropped to his knee and popped the question. And yes, she accepted.

 

—Ken Marantz for the X-League

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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