CFL’s B.C. Lions’ all-comers tryout camp pulls in Japanese prospect

Japan’s first brush with North American football came in 1934, when the game was introduced to an alien culture by Paul Rusch, a teacher and missionary from Kentucky.

CFL - BC Lions logo

Yet, unlike baseball, where Japan was achieved parity with another American sports institution, the Land of the Rising Pigskin Japan is not.

That fact hasn’t deterred running back Sueyoshi Tomokazu, a graduate of the Waseda University Big Bears, from trying to make a dent on this side of the International Date Line.

Two years ago, he trained at the IMG Academy in Florida for a shot at the NFL regional combine in Seattle.

Japan - Tomokazu at IMG Academy

Monday, Tomokazu, 25, reported to a B.C. Lions’ evaluation camp in Surrey with the same pioneering aim, this time in the Canadian Football League. The camp was open to eligible CIS and NCAA players for the May 12 CFL draft, overage and underage juniors and free agents.

“That’s crazy — I didn’t know guys came from that far away,” said 20-year-old defensive back John Beckerleg of the junior Surrey Rams. “But this (Lions) is a good organization. They give everybody a shot to pursue their professional dreams.”

“I always watch NFL (on TV) and the CFL (on the Internet),” Tomokazu explained. “To play football in the CFL is my dream. That is why I came here. It’s a great league. I want to give it a try.”

Tomokazu, who is staying with friends in Vancouver, found out about the pro tryout from UBC recruiting and special teams coach Paul Orazietti, after he watched the Thunderbirds practise.

Back home, he plays for IBM Big Blue in the X-League — Japan’s corporate-sponsored professional football league, where the overwhelming size difference that has represented a physiological barrier for Japanese in North America doesn’t appear to be as pronounced. Teams in the X-League are limited to two foreigners per team and get a shot to play in the championship game called — wait for it — the Rice Bowl.

“He (Tomokazu) might have a shot,” said Lions’ player-business development advisor Geroy Simon. “He’s got some skills.”

CFL - BC Lions - free agent camp

Free agent hopefuls going through their paces at B.C. Lions free agent tryout. Photo courtesy B.C. Lions

Simon will get a second look at Tomokazu later this week. Both are headed to a CFL draft combine in Montreal being run in connection with the 13th annual East-West Bowl, a college all-star game.

“He’s (Tomokazu) a quick little guy,” said UBC’s Michael O’Connor, the only quarterback at Monday’s camp. “He made some nice moves.”

O’Connor, the celebrated transfer from Penn State, also has pro aspirations, although, at 19, his realization is a few years away yet. He’ll be going to Lions’ training camp in Kamloops later this month as part of the CFL’s Canadian Quarterback Development Program, undeterred by the knowledge that native-born QBs in the CFL are as rare as Japanese running backs.

“CFL defences are a lot more complex than CIS defences,” O’Connor said. “Likewise, the playbook. One thing I really want to get out of this (Kamloops) is learning the playbook, so I won’t be overwhelmed four or five years from now.”

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Link to original Vancouver Sun story. 


Mike Beamish is an award winning writer and reporter for the Vancouver Sun who has been covering football in Canada for 30 years. He was elected into the CFL Hall Of Fame.