Japan: Catching up with the XLeague through its first two weeks

After two exciting weeks of play in Japan, three familiar teams sit atop the standings. The Fujitsu Frontiers, Obic Seagulls, and Panasonic impulse all remain undefeated as they seem to be the top three squads in the country once again.

However, parity appears to still have a place in the XLeague as there have been a few games that were far more competitive than expected.

Let’s examine all eight teams to see how they’ve fared during the early part of the season:

The Obic Seagulls (1-0): The defending champion Seagulls looked dominant once again beating the IBM Big Blue 41-20 in their season opener this past weekend. Quarterback Jimmy Laughrea (UC Davis) connected with tight end Holden Huff (Boise State) and receiver Yuto Nishimura to march Obic’s offense up and down the field this ease.

On the opposite side of the ball All-AFI Pandemic team defensive back Bronson Beatty and veteran defensive end Byron Beatty Jr. (Colorado) return to a swarming Seagulls defense eager to repeat as X-Bowl champions.

Obic Seagulls quarterback Jimmy Laughrea Photo Credit: X-League

The Fujitsu Frontiers (2-0):  The Frontiers are coming off of a runner-up season in 2020 after four straight championships from 2016-19. In an effort to reclaim the title Fujitsu brings back import running back Trashaun Nixon (New Mexico State) and receiver Samajie Grant (Arizona) while opting to go with Japanese quarterback Tsubasa Takagi this season.

So far this season the Frontiers blew out the Nojima Sagamihara Rise in their first game, then followed up that performance with a less than dominant 32-22 victory over the Tokyo Gas Creators in week two.

Frontiers linebacker Shoki Cho Photo Credit: X-League

The Panasonic Impulse (2-0): Panasonic opened their season with a bang, thrashing the  Tokyo Gas Creators to the tune of 71-0. They followed that performance with a 24-10 win against the Nojima Sagamihara Rise. A defensive score from linebacker Jaboree Williams (Wake Forest) helped them prevail in a game that was much closer than many fans expected.

On offense Panasonic returns running back Victor Mitchell Jr. (UVA-Wise), quarterback Anthony Lawrence (San Deigo), and homegrown receiver Tsubasa Brennan, giving them several dynamic playmakers to lean on.

Panasonic Impulse running back Victor Mitchell Photo Credit Megumi Sugita

The IBM Big Blue (0-1-1):  After a week one tie the Big Blue were blown out by the Obic Seagulls in their second game this season. Veteran tight end John Stanton (St. Johns) leads IBM in his 10th season of X-League football. Stanton, Auburn product Jason Smith, and Japanese quarterback Yuki Masamoto aim to get the IBM offense rolling as the season picks up steam.

Across the ball, defensive end James Brooks (Arizona State) and linebacker Herbert Gamboa (Montana) return to the Big Blue aiming to get their team back to the X-Bowl for the first time since 2018.

IBM Big Blue offensive line Photo Credit: XLeague

Elecom Kobe Finies (0-0-1): Elecom was able to draw IBM in their season opener 26-26 while missing some key pieces. Alfonso Onunwor (Idaho) was the star of that game scoring fantastic kick returns. Quarterback Kazuki Irisa will look to get the ball to receiver Daiki Uchida as this offense is still searching for a spark. On defense, Cardell Rawlings (Wingate) returns to Elecom determine to continue his recent pass-rushing success from the defensive end position.

Elecom fans are expecting the offense to improve later this season as the team anticipates the return of starting quarterback Cody Sokol (Louisiana Tech) as he missed their season opener.

Elecom Kobe Finies receiver Alfonso Onunwor Photo Credit: XLeague

Nojima Sagamihara Rise (0-2) The Rise have gone through the gauntlet to start the season losing consecutive games to title contenders the Fujitsu Frontiers and the Panasonic Impulse.

Quarterback Kurt Palandech (UNLV) commands the Rise offense for a second straight season after winning the XLeague Rookie of the Year award last season. Newcomer Kaito Abe has also been able to provide a spark out of the backfield.

On defense, pass rusher Yohei Komiya is another player to watch. The 6’0″ 250-pound defensive end, put up two sacks in their first game. Nojima will try to bounce back after facing two tough opponents out of the gate.

Nojima Sagamihara Rise Photo Credit: Kohei Saeki

The Tokyo Gas Creators (0-2) The Creators were blown out 71-0 in their opener against the Panasonic Impulse. However, Tokyo Gas appeared much improved in their next outing as they lost a close game 22-32 to powerhouse Fujistu on Monday. The admirable performance against the Frontiers shocked experts as many had predicted another lopsided loss for The Creators against one of the league’s best teams.

Former Virginia Tech star Jerod Evans leads the Creators from under center this season. In their last game, Evans and 6’4″ receiver Agude Nnamdi (Sacramento State) seemed to be in sync converting on several big plays. Creators fans are expecting the two to become one of the league’s best quarterback-receiver duos.

Tokyo’s quarterback Jerod Evans Photo Credit: XLeague

The All Mitsubishi Lions: The Lions have decided to opt-out of the first four games of the season due to a continued state of emergency. The Lions and league officials are hopeful they will return to play later on in the Xleague season. Currently, October 30th is the earliest we could see the team in action. Teams that were scheduled to face them have received an automatic win.

When the Lions do return to play, former Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos defensive lineman Paul Boyette Jr. will be a player to keep an eye on. The 6’3″ 315 pound Texas Longhorns product will certainly be a force in the trenches.

Fans of Japanese football have enjoyed the action so far as the league looks to have a great mix of Japanese and imported talent for the 2021 season. As the season ramps up fans will be eagerly anticipating key matchups as teams will begin to separate themselves inching closer to the XLeague championship game, the Rice Bowl, this fall.

X-League Super and X1 Area (Japan’s first and second divisions) games can be viewed on pay per view here:

Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football