Ravens draft Nakamura
Posted by ampontan on Saturday, May 17, 2008
MORE THAN 30 JAPANESE played on teams in the now-defunct N.F.L. Europe, a league with the dual objective of player development and generating interest in American football in that part of the world. Also, Kinoshita Noriaki got a summer-long trial with the Atlanta Falcons during exhibition season last year, but was cut from the squad before the regular season started. That’s the closest any Japanese or ethnic Japanese has ever come to playing in a football game that counts in the National Football League in the United States.
That might change this year. In the recent N.F.L. draft, the Baltimore Ravens selected Haruki Nakamura, a safety (defender) from the University of Cincinnati in the sixth round. Nakamura is not a native Japanese, but he’s close–his father was from Japan. Ryozo Nakamura, who died when Haruki was five, had an eighth-degree black belt in judo (a very high level) and traveled around the world as an instructor. One of his stops included Egypt to train the Egyptian military. He finally went to the U.S. to work with the American national judo team, and stayed to marry a Japanese-American woman with a fourth-degree black belt in judo herself.
Judo runs in the Nakamura family. Everyone in the family except Haruki has been a national champion. In fact, his two brothers combined for 10 national judo championships between them, and brother Yoshi also was twice selected an All-American in wrestling.
Ironically, his father didn’t want anyone playing football because he thought it was too dangerous, and Nakamura had to sneak around when he finally started playing in the sixth grade.
Nakamura turned out to be a natural for the sport, however. He was a three-year starter at Cincinnati, and as the senior captain and defensive signal caller last season, led the Bearcats in tackles with 95. He also had four interceptions and recovered four fumbles while his team won 10 games, the last being the PapaJohns.com Bowl. He is known for what one website called “eye-popping hits” and intense pre-game preparation.
Aggressive defense is the calling card of the N.F.L.’s Ravens, and they were thrilled to select Nakamura. The team’s secondary coach Mark Carrier said, “When I watched him play, he was always moving, always in motion…He plays with a sense of urgency. He is good, physical, plays smart and is aggressive. You like watching him play because he looks like he is having fun.”
Nakamura’s hometown newspaper in Ohio, The Chronicle-Telegram, ran a profile on him last year:
A lot of people assume that because I’m not that big of a guy, I wouldn’t be a physical player,” said Nakamura. “It’s true. I’m not 6-2 and 225 pounds. But in my eyes, that’s part of the fun. I like surprising people.”
Here’s a report from NFL.com
Classic over-achieving blue collar free safety who simply makes too many plays to not get a shot at the next level. While Nakamura lacks the elite straight-line speed of some of the other higher profile athletes at the position, he plays with instincts, physicality and an ability to step up his level against top competition. Nakamura’s versatility as a return specialist just adds to his value.
And one from SI.com
POSITIVES: Productive, hard-working college defender with limited upside. Intelligent, displays good instincts, and quick diagnosing the action. Physical, works to get involved, and a willing volunteer in run defense. Displays a burst of straight-line speed, takes good angles to the action, and wraps up when tackling.
NEGATIVES: Undersized, has tackles broken, and struggles getting off blocks. Lacks top sideline-to-sideline range as well as speed to the flanks.
To understand how good he is (and how much the Cincinnati fans loved his play), take a look at this YouTube tribute video they put together. Nakamura is number 13. To see what the Ravens saw, watch how he throws his body to stop a running back from scoring a touchdown at about 1:25, and the hits that start at about 3:00.
A lot could happen between now and September—particularly injuries—but I suspect Nakamura is going to become an N.F.L. pioneer and make the Ravens this year as a special teams player, i.e., playing on kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, and punt returns. He’s just the kind of guy the Baltimore fans appreciate.