Panasonic Impulse running back Victor Mitchell Jr. is making the most of his football talents – on the other side of the world, in Japan. He was a key to his team’s huge 24-14 semifinal win over the Obic Seagulls and berth in their first X Bowl since 2015.
The 5’8″, 183 lb rookie from Hampton, Virginia rushed for 145 yards and set up the go ahead touchdown with a 49 yard scamper late in the third quarter. Mitchell is coming off a superb rookie season in Japan which saw him finish second in rushing during the regular season with 537 yards in seven games.
As he prepares along with his team to face the Fujitsu Frontiers in the X Bowl on December 15, the 22 year old, who has a degree in Mathematics from the University of Virginia at Wise, took a few moments to talk to American Football International about playing football in Japan and the upcoming championship game.
Mitchell is not unfamiliar with Japan and its culture. He is the son of a Japanese mother (Kyoko Mitchell who is from Yokohama) and American father (Victor Mitchell) and as such plays as Japanese player and not an import. He is fluent in the language so communication was not a problem. The fact that he spoke Japanese enabled him to help his American teammates bridge the language barrier. In fact, he spent the first six years of his life living in Japan and frequently returns for visits.
Although his situation is not as unique as it sounds (Panasonic has three other dual citizenship players on the roster), the fact that he can play as a Japanese player is a huge boon to the team since they can still fill the other four import spots allowed in the X League.
AFI: How did you find out about football in Japan?
Mitchell: My father actually found out about the X-League first through the AFI twitter page @AFIReview after seeing a post about one of the Japanese teams. From there we did our own research on the league and got in contact with some of the teams through email.
AFI: Why did you sign with the Impulse?
Mitchell: I signed with the Panasonic Impulse because they showed me the most interest, the strong team culture, and the chance to start a dynasty. As soon as I met representatives for the Panasonic Impulse they treated me like family with great hospitality. When meeting the team, I could instantly see the pride they took in playing football and how hard they worked to achieve the goal of winning the Rice Bowl.
In the past three years, the Panasonic Impulse lost in the semi-finals just missing the Japan X Bowl, so my main goal for the season was to overcome that “curse” and make it to the league championship. Now that we’ve done that, my next goal is to make history by winning the championship and bring in a strong, confident winning culture for our football program.
AFI: How much of a cultural difference has there been and has it been difficult to adjust?
Most of the cultural difference has been positive for the most part. Japanese culture, especially in the work environment, is very prudent so every step is taken precisely. That being said practices are usually over 3 hours long because of the repetitiveness of running plays/drills to make sure everybody knows their assignments. I’ve never been on a team where there was so much attention to detail and so little mental errors.
AFI: How is the level of football in Japan and what are the main differences?
Mitchell: The skill level of football in Japan is very impressive. I was surprised by the speed and physicality of my team especially. I’d say the main difference is the technicality of football here where there’s a lot less risk-taking and more of staying to the script (which I think comes with the culture).
AFI: Has it been difficult adjusting to a totally different culture?
Mitchell: It’s been a pretty smooth transition for the most part. I was born in Yokosuka, Japan at the U.S Naval Base and raised in Yokohama, Japan until the age of 6 so I’m pretty familiar with the culture. The opportunity of playing American Football back in Japan is really ideal for me since I am half Japanese and half American, so I get a perfect mix of cultural experience.
In addition, I’ve found it interesting how Japan has integrated the culture with American football (for example bowing before entering/leaving the field, thanking the fans for coming to support the team after every game, etc.).
AFI: You are facing the Fujitsu Frontiers, a team that has won the past three X Bowls, Panasonic was the last team to win the title and you are underdogs. Is that a great position to be in?
Mitchell: I like the position we are in now. Even in the semi-finals against the Obic Seagulls, only 25% of a fan based poll had us winning. I feel like throughout my life I’ve always been in the underdog position, so it just motivates me to work harder and prove the world wrong.
AFI: The Frontiers are not a spectacular team but they do everything well and do not make mistakes. What do you need to do to beat them?
Mitchell: I definitely need to break down a lot of film, and be able to make adjustments throughout the game. Fujitsu’s coaches are really smart, so I’ll have to counter whatever they scout against me in order to perform the way I want to.
AFI: You have had an excellent season and finished as the second leading rusher in the league. How does that feel in your rookie year?
Mitchell: It has definitely given me a lot more confidence on the field. I honestly didn’t think my rookie year would go as good as it is now. My college’s offense was mainly pass based, so coming to a more balanced Panasonic offense was refreshing as I had more of an opportunity to showcase my skills.
The Impulse face the Fujitsu Frontiers on December 15 at the Tokyo Dome in X Bowl