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TOP > Game Report > Game preview: Fujitsu QB Hiramoto aims to make most of latest chance

Game Report

Game preview: Fujitsu QB Hiramoto aims to make most of latest chance




Fujitsu backup quarterback Keiya Hiramoto knows all about making the most of an opportunity that comes his way.


In last year’s Japan X Bowl, the 28-year-old was suddenly called into action when the Frontiers’ star American quarterback Colby Cameron suffered a shoulder injury just before halftime. His reponse was to calmly and confidently finish up the Frontiers’ 44-10 victory over the IBM BigBlue for their first-ever X-League title.


But Hiramoto wasn’t done. Cameron also had to sit out the Rice Bowl, and Hiramoto returned to Tokyo Dome and led Fujitsu to a 33-24 win over the Kwansei Gakuin University to add the national title.


Had Hiramoto not come through in these pressure-packed situations, it is unlikely he would be taking the field at Fujitsu Kawasaki Stadium on Sunday, when the Japan national team plays an exhibition game in preparation for the upcoming IFAF World Championship in Canton, Ohio.


“If he didn’t stay prepared, he wouldn’t have been able to do that when his chance came,” Japan national team coach Kiyoyuki Mori said of selecting Hiramoto as a candidate for the squad to Canton, despite the fact that he wasn’t a starter on his X-League team.


“There may be other quarterbacks at Hiramoto’s level who weren’t selected, but there are only a few who, when they need to come into a game, can put on a great performance.”


Hiramoto is one of three quarterbacks—along with Panasonic Impulse veteran Tetsuo Takata and Shohei Kato of Mori’s Lixil Deers—currently on the 56-man roster that will face a combined team of Keio University and X-League players in the exhibition game.


This will the last chance for the players to make an impression before the final squad of 45 is announced Monday. And with Mori saying it has not yet been decided whether to take two or three quarterbacks to the World Championship, Hiramoto will be under the gun again.


“One thing is I want to show my strong points, that I can get the timing down on quick passes and I make a quick decision,” Hiramoto said. “Then, most important is not to make mistakes.”


In Fujitsu’s two X-League exhibition games this spring, Hiramoto completed 30 of 52 passes for 260 yards and a touchdown and three interceptions. Fujitsu won both games, including a victory over Mori’s Deers.


But he also got to see action prior to last year’s postseason. With Cameron leading Fujitsu to routs against weaker opponents early in the season, Hiramoto appeared in the first four games and did quite well, completing 18 of 22 passes for 315 yards and four touchdowns. His only interceptions were the two he threw later in the Rice Bowl against Kwansei Gakuin.


“Compared with quarterbacks on other teams last season, I was on the bench and didn’t have much to show,” Hiramoto said. “But I attended a national team tryout and I feel I did well. I was worried about my lack of results, but I’m happy I was evaluated so highly.”


While his playing time was limited, Hiramoto credited Cameron with helping him improve and reach the stage he is at now. “Colby is a good rival and a good coach for me,” he said. “Football in America is on a higher level than Japanese football and he taught me many things. That’s helped me become a better player.”


Wide receiver Teruaki Clark Nakamura, a teammate of Hiramoto’s at Fujitsu and before that at Nihon University, said practicing with the top players from around the league has been a good experience.


“It’s a good education,” Nakamura said. “There are good players at my position and the defensive backs are good players. It’s tiring. I have to give it everything on every play. It’s a good chance to raise my own level.”


In Sunday’s game, Mori said that he and his staff will be focused on game management and communication between the players and coaches, and seeing how the players perform under game conditions as opposed to practice. “We need to judge when to take a gamble, which we can’t do in practice,” he added.


Fujitsu has the most players going into the final cut with 16, while the former champion Obic Seagulls have the next most with 12, followed by Panasonic (9), Lixil (8) and IBM (4).  There are four other players  from three X-League teams, two collegians and one unaffiliated player.


Among the players still vying for a spot is Panasonic veteran defensive lineman Yasuo Wakisaka. If selected, the 46-year-old will be the only player to make it to every World Championship dating back to the first one in 1999, when it was called the World Cup.


Japan won the first two tournaments in 1999 and 2003, although the United States did not participate. The United States beat Japan in double overtime to win the 2007 championship in Kawasaki, then defended its title in 2011 in Vienna, where Japan lost to Canada in the semifinals and finished third.


—Ken Marantz for the X-League