Japan’s Yoshihito Omi chases NFL dream to London NFL International Combine

Yoshihito Omi took the field this week in front of a stadium full of scouts at the NFL International Combine in London, hoping to take another step forward in his football journey.

The 6’0″ 190-pound receiver stands out in the group of athletes as the lone Japanese player invited to the first of two NFL International Combines scheduled for October (the second is in Mexico on October 23). The 25-year-old was thrilled to be a part of the event and the overall growing interest the NFL is taking in international players:

“Everyone in the world has a chance to get in the NFL even if you haven’t played football. This is a great program for international players and I really appreciate them inviting me.”

Photo: NFL Japan

Omi and the 43 other international athletes were all competing for a chance to be selected as part of the NFL International Player Pathway program.  Since 2017, the program has provided elite international athletes the chance to compete at the highest level, develop their skills, and ultimately earn a spot on an NFL roster.

The International Combine is the first step in the selection process in the program that has helped players such as Jordan Mailata (Philadelphia Eagles/Australia), Sammis Reyes (Washington Football Team/Chile), and Jakob Johnson (New England Patriots/Germany) earn their place in the NFL.

The London events weren’t the first time Omi has chased his football dreams to a foreign country. This past season, Omi joined the Leipzig Kings of the European League of Football. However, he struggled to stay healthy. Whenever he was on the field, Omi flashed the skilled route running and sure hands that made him a star in his home country. After all that adversity and hard work, the young receiver felt content with his combine performance:

“I could show them my strength, quickness, and receiver skills on the field.”

Omi playing for the Leipzig Kings Photo Credit: Marian Wenzel

The Osaka native was also the captain of the Japanese national team that played against The Spring League (TSL) All-Star team in Dallas Texas’s AT&T stadium. In that game, fans saw the TSL prevail 36-16. However, Omi shined in the loss, making several big plays against top American talent. In 2020, Omi played in the same Spring League (USA) suiting up alongside a host of future NFL talent as a member of the Alphas. The young receiver is honored to have represented Japanese football in two different leagues and continents, and now at the London NFL International Combine:

“I’m so proud of representing Japan. I could show Japanese kids that this is the way to NFL and this is the dream way you should aim for.”

Yoshito Omi Photo: NFL Japan

Performing in front of NFL scouts and personalities was a special experience for all players involved including Omi, who has been vocal about wanting a chance to join the NFL IPP program. Finally, being in an NFL environment for the first time the former IBM Big Blue receiver had to adjust quickly to performing in such a different setting.

“It was completely different among the other combines. I was so nervous before I flew out to London. However, after a couple of days staying and talking with them, I could feel relaxed and get a great combine on the NFL field.”

Omi is a product of Japan’s well-structured American football scene. As a student at Ritsumeikan University, Omi joined the Panthers football team, playing in the country’s highest level of college football. Suiting up for the three-time national champions helped prepare the slender receiver for Japan’s highest level of play in the X League. In his second season with the IBM Big Blue, Omi led the league in receiving in 2019 with 33 catches for 544 yards and seven touchdowns in only seven games.

Omi hopes to follow in the footsteps of Japanese running back Taku Lee who was invited to the NFL International Player Pathway program last year. While Lee hasn’t made it onto NFL team yet, he is now playing for the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL. Omi is eager to take Lee’s momentum and push onwards to NFL Sunday afternoons. The former Japanese national team captain will now have to wait to find out his future status with the prestigious National Football League. If he does make an NFL roster Omi will be the first-ever Japanese player to do so.

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