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TOP > NEWS 2023/01/17
Silver Star QB Tono gets national team call-up
2023/01/17 UP

 

Japan national team head coach Kiyoyuki Mori knows only too well how Asahi Beer Silver Star quarterback Minoru Tono performs under pressure. Now he gets a chance to have Tono on his side of the field.

The 35-year-old Tono got his first national call-up when he was among 45 players added to the 69-man preliminary squad for the Japan national team that will face South Korea in the Asian playoff for this summer's World Championship of American Football.

Rice Bowl-winning quarterback Shun Sugawara of the Obic Seagulls was also named to the squad that will be reduced to a 45-man roster prior to the game on Feb. 26 at Kawasaki Stadium.

Obic defensive tackle Mitsunori Kihira and linebacker Naoki Kosho and Panasonic Electric Works quarterback Tetsuo Takata were among 24 players who had been previously selected to attend the four training camps to be held over four weekends from Jan. 29 to Feb. 20.

X-League players make up the bulk of the group, which includes five collegians and currently unaffiliated wide receiver Noriaki Kinoshita, a former Atlanta Falcons prospect.

Tono's selection as the third quarterback behind Takata and Sugawara was somewhat of a surprise, but Mori said the Ritsumeikan University product earned his spot with his gutty performances this season.

"It was based on his what he did this fall season under difficult conditions," Mori said at a recent press conference to announce the squad. "He's strong under pressure and it seemed natural to choose him."

In the clash for the East Division title against Mori's Kajima Deers, Tono threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns as the Silver Star nearly rallied to beat the defending league championships, coming out on the short end of a 24-23 score when they failed a two-point conversion.

Two weeks later against Panasonic in the second stage, Tono, returning to the game after an early hand injury, threw three second-half touchdowns as the Silver Star came close to upsetting the Impulse. They lost that game 24-19, but Tono earned praise for leading the comeback.

Tono topped the East Division with 653 yards passing, completing 56 of 91 attempts with three touchdowns and three interceptions. He is joined on the squad by Asahi Beer wide receiver/kicker/punter Kazuya Togura.

Missing from the list is Panasonic's 41-year-old defensive tackle Yasuo Wakisaka, who, had he made the final cut for Austria, would have been the only player on the Japan roster for all four world championships.

While the majority of players are from the big four powerhouses--Kajima, Obic, Panasonic and Fujitsu--a handful from the smaller clubs made the grade. Among those are defensive lineman Ryota Ikura and offensive lineman/kicker/punter Kentaro Kimura of the Sagamihara Rise, the team formed from the remnants of the disbanded Onward Oaks, who next season will play in  X-1 after starting in the third division in 2009.

With a tradition in the sport that dates back a century, Japan has established itself as a world power by winning the first two editions of the World Championships (originally called the World Cup) in Italy (1999) and Germany (2003), although the ultimate power, the United States, skipped those events.

The U.S. showed up in Kawasaki in 2007 and, despite fielding a team with a number of Division-I players, needed overtime before beating Japan 23-20 in the final.

Japan should have little trouble dispatching South Korea. While it does not indicate its current strength, at the 2007 tournament South Korea lost its two group games 77-0 to the United States and 32-2 to Germany. The Koreans defeated France 3-0 in the fifth-place playoff.

Japan, meanwhile, crushed France and Sweden by identical 48-0 scores.

"It's a game we have to win," Mori said.

Since the last World Championship, Japan has played two "international" games, falling to a team of Notre Dame alumni 19-3 on July 25, 2009, in Tokyo, but beating Germany 24-14 in Stuttgart on April 21, 2010.

The field for this year's World Championship, to be held July 8-17 in Austria, have been expanded from six teams to eight, divided into two round-robin groups.

The winner of the Japan-South Korea game will play in Group A in Gratz with host Austria, France and Canada. Group B, based in Innsbruck, consists of the United States, Germany, Australia and Mexico. The championship and games to determine final placings will be played in Vienna.


Ken Marantz is a sportswriter for The Daily Yomiuri in Tokyo.

 
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