Japan: Keven Lightner thriving as a coach with Fujitsu Frontiers

By Aidan Wohl

As part of one of Japan’s most storied X-League franchises in recent history, seventh-year Fujitsu Frontiers assistant coach Keven Lightner has the experience and attitude to help his team defend the title again.

Since 2007, the Frontiers have reached the X-League title game, formerly the X Bowl, 12 times and won it six, including five of the last six. The only setback since 2016 was a 13-7 loss to the Obic Seagulls in 2020.

In other words, Lightner has played a key role in the building of a dynasty. And given his football background, it should not be a surprise.

Before coaching for a powerhouse Japanese football team, Lightner was a star offensive tackle at Nebraska, earning All-Big-Eight honors in 1987 before eventually turning to coaching.

He coached in the NCAA for numerous teams before arriving in Japan, such as Vanderbilt and Ohio University where he was the offensive line coach, New Mexico State (O-line coach), and Western Kentucky (offensive coordinator), as well as Nebraska-Omaha and Northern State University.

The idea of having a steady roster of professionals instead of acquiring new players through the NCAA each season has led many coaches to leave college football and pursue a career elsewhere.

Lightner was one of those.

He left Vanderbilt University in 2015 and moved to Kawasaki, Kanagawa, Japan to join Fujitsu in the X-League

“After 20 years of coaching I was a little burned out from the non-stop recruiting process and was looking for a change,” Lightner said. “The X-league opportunity presented itself and I was very intrigued. Coach Pierre Ingram reached out to me, he had made the successful move over here and after meeting with the GM and coaches with Fujitsu, I decided to go all in.”

Exchanging teaching and learning from different fields of study, customs and systems can be essential in the success of a football organization.

“I have tried to coach in Japan the same way I did in the US,” Lightner noted. “I am very passionate about O-line play and the physicality that it demands. The players have adapted to my style and embraced it. I have had to be more patient here in Japan because of the language barrier but it has made me a better coach, the players are so smart and have made the transition easy.”

Lightner has had no issue picking up where he left off from the NCAA, having players with a championship mentality, eventually leading to a dynasty, winning five Xleague championships since his arrival.”

“We have great leadership here at Fujitsu,” Lightner said. “From top to bottom, they have a common vision and have created an environment that breeds success. I feel that our players have such great work ethic and that they truly love the game.”

Having former NFL player and Atlanta Falcons defensive quality coach Thom Kaumeyer and former Cal Golden Bears running backs coach and Rivals.com’s 2014 Top-10 Pac-12 recruiter Pierre Ingram along with the experience of the Japanese staff and Lightner, has done wonders for this program, and they have not skipped a beat since beginning to work together.

“Fujitsu has put a great coaching staff together,” Lightner said. “We have a mix of experienced American coaches and experienced Japanese coaches that work well together. We also have a high energy group of young coaches and support staff that bring great energy to our organization.

Lightner’s Frontiers (4-0) have remained the team to beat in the X-League this season and are aiming to get back to the Rice Bowl (formerly the X Bowl) to win their seventh championship in 10 seasons as they get ready to take on the Obic Seagulls this week.

“We feel great where we are now in the season. We have been fortunate to play lots of young players so our depth has improved. Rice Bowl is always a goal and we feel like if you want to win a championship it goes through Fujitsu.”

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