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TOP > What’s New > Rice Bowl Preview: Fujitsu faces foe with name value in bid for third national title in four years

What’s New

Rice Bowl Preview: Fujitsu faces foe with name value in bid for third national title in four years

’17.12.31

From left, Fujitsu captain and wide receiver Junpei Yoshimoto and head coach Satoshi Fujita pose with Nihon University head coach Masato Uchida and captain and defensive lineman Shogo Yamazaki at the Rice Bowl press conference. (photo by MI Planning)

 

 

Rice Bowl Preview: Fujitsu faces foe with name value in bid for third national title in four years

By Ken Marantz

 

The Fujitsu Frontiers might not know much about the Nihon University Phoenix, the team they will face in the Rice Bowl for national supremacy, but one name will certainly sound familiar.

 

Starting at safety for the Phoenix in the national championship on Jan. 3 at Tokyo Dome will be Hawaiian native and senior Bronson Beatty—the younger brother of Obic Seagulls defensive end B.J. Beatty.

 

The younger Beatty is one of a handful of Americans who will suit up for Nihon University, the once-mighty powerhouse commonly referred to as “Nichidai” that will be making its first Rice Bowl appearance in 27 years.

 

“To be honest, I never thought I’d make it to this game,” Beatty said at a recent pregame press conference. “It was always that step there, we could never get there. We finally did it this year.”

 

Nichidai, led by freshman quarterback Taiki Hayashi, earned a shot at a fifth national title—but first since winning three straight in 1989-1991—by dethroning the defending collegiate champion Kwansei Gakuin University Fighters 23-17 in the Koshien Bowl on Dec. 18.

 

Fujitsu, which secured a place with a 63-23 rout of the IBM BigBlue in the Japan X Bowl a day later, will be aiming for its second straight Rice Bowl victory and third in four years.

 

Started in 1948, the Rice Bowl was originally a college all-star game between teams from the Kanto and Kansai regions. In 1983, it was changed to pit the company league (reorganized as the X-League in 1996) and collegiate champions for the national title.

 

In the early years, college teams such as Nichidai dominated. But gradually the balance of power shifted as the college stars came of age and the level of the company league rose, helped by the influx of American coaches and players.

 

The Frontiers’ win in the 2017 game over Kwansei Gakuin made it eight straight wins and 12 of the past 13 for X-League teams, who lead the series 22-12. This year will mark the first time Kanto teams will face each other since 2007.

 

While the X-League teams are undeniably bigger and stronger, the collegians have held their own in recent years and kept the scores relatively close.

 

“They’re greedy and they fight hard and it will be fun to have two [Kanto] teams in the Rice Bowl, it’s been awhile,” Fujitsu quarterback Colby Cameron said. “We’re just excited to play another game which a lot of people can’t right now, and we’re going to take advantage and execute the game plan.”

 

What the college teams lack in size, they make up with a deep bench and the freedom to practice far more than the X-Leaguers, which keeps them fresher for the 15-minute quarters used in the Rice Bowl.

 

“We can only win by having more practice,” said Nichidai’s wizened coach Masato Uchida, the longtime mentor who ended a one-year retirement to return to the helm this season. “I think we will get fatigued under their weight, but our players have to overcome the difference in strength, and win by outrunning them.”

 

The 174-centimeter, 80-kilogram Hayashi, who passed for 128 yards and a touchdown and ran for 113 yards in the Koshien Bowl to earn the MVP award, has been quoted as saying the Phoenix can be successful if they keep it simple. That would end a trend of the collegians relying on trick plays, often to great success.

 

“Playing the college kids is akin to a guerrilla army fighting a standard military,” Fujitsu cornerback Al-Rilwan Adeyami said. “For the guerrilla unit to win, they must come up with surprises and tricks which can do extreme damage to a standard army if they’re not careful. Fujitsu as the standard military comparison must be ready for all the booby traps, such as trick plays and cut blocks.”

 

Adeyami pledged that, just with the IBM game, there will be letting up on the collegians if the game gets out of hand.

 

“With 15-minute quarters, there’s nowhere in the rule book that says the game has to be close, or that it even has to be as close as 63-23. Like [NFL coach] Jim Harbaugh said, ‘It’s not our job to stop us.’”

 

Uchida, 62, previously coached the Phoenix from 2003 to 2015 as the successor to the late legend Mikio Shinotake. He led them into four Koshien Bowls, but came up short each time.

 

He finally took Nichidai to the collegiate pinnacle by returning to principles established by Shinotake, who won 17 collegiate and four national titles during his 44-year career as coach. Shinotake passed away in 2006 at age 73.

 

“My intention was to instill coach Shinotake’s philosophy in a way that fits the current players,” Uchida said. “Our coaches did a good job.”

 

Like the X-League teams, Uchida long ago saw the value of bringing in American players, not only for their skills but for their attitude regarding the game. Among those who played under Uchida was Panasonic Impulse defensive end David Motu, who this season was named to the All X-League team for a third time.

 

“About 20 years ago, I went to America to recruit players,” Uchida said. “We were locked in a certain mentality at the time, and it was different football. America is more free, and brings together different people with different ways of thinking. It was the best of sports.

 

“So in Japan, we invited them to play football with us. We absorbed much about the game and gained more awareness from them. For the coaches, it became easier just having to teach the Japanese.

 

“But taking players with different cultures and different ways of thinking and getting them to work toward a common goal is the job of the coach. All of the American coaches do that. To get close to that, we need them here.”

 

Along with Beatty, who had eight tackles in the Koshien Bowl win over Kwansei Gakuin, others expected to start are running back Dereck Akira Williams and linebacker Moses Wiseman.

 

“They really follow us,” Beatty said of his Japanese teammates. “Coach Uchida really preaches to us to never let us get down, because if we go down, with that mood, they’ll follow us. So we have to keep the morale going.”

 

Beatty, who will join his brother on Obic after graduating, knows the Phoenix have a tall order in attempting to topple the Frontiers, who ended the Seagulls’ season with a 7-0 win in the semifinals.

 

“It’s an extremely tough task,” he said. “They put up 63 points against IBM. I don’t know where to start. Everywhere you go, you have their receivers, there’s [running back] Gino [Gordon], Colby, they got weapons everywhere.”

 

Many of those weapons were developed by the coach who will be standing on the opposite side of the field. Twelve of the Frontiers are Nichidai alumni, including such stars as wide receiver and Japan X Bowl MVP Teruaki Clark Nakamura, kicker Hidetetsu Nishimura, offensive tackle Yutaro Kobayashi and tight end Yuki Mizuno.

 

The experience of playing in and winning two previous Rice Bowls will also be a factor in Fujitsu’s favor, as none of the Phoenix players were even born the last time Nichidai made it.

 

“Our first time in the Rice Bowl, we weren’t sure of what to expect from the college team, but this being our third go-around, we’re just excited to play another game,” said Adeyami, one of Fujitsu’s seven All X-League selections this season along with Nakamura, Nishimura and Kobayashi.

 

“We are a very well-coached team and our coaches have been doing a good job of making sure we’re focused during practice and film sessions. Personally, I hope that all our guys are extremely focused and are ready for the challenge at hand.”

 

Beatty and his teammates are certainly ready to give it their best shot. Their attitude: Who knows what might happen?

 

“I think it’s a long shot, but you got to play the game,” Beatty said. “They could have their worst game, and we could have our best game.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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