EAST
富士通フロンティアーズ LIXIL DEERS アサヒビールシルバースター 東京ガスクリエイターズ 警視庁イーグルス 富士ゼロックスミネルヴァAFC
CENTRAL
オービックシーガルズ IBM BigBlue ノジマ相模原ライズ オール三菱ライオンズ 明治安田PentaOceanパイレーツ BULLSフットボールクラブ
EAST
パナソニック インパルス エレコム神戸ファイニーズ アサヒ飲料チャレンジャーズ アズワンブラックイーグルス 名古屋サイクロンズ クラブホークアイ
TOP > Game Report > Season Preview: Seagulls, Frontiers expected to lead the pack

Game Report

Season Preview: Seagulls, Frontiers expected to lead the pack

’14.08.21

Will the Obic Seagulls extend their unprecedented run of championships to five in a row? Did the Fujitsu Frontiers find the piece of the puzzle needed to finally stop them after so many close calls? Can another team emerge to break up the recent dominance of the Dynamic Duo?

 
These and other questions about the X-League will be answered over the course of the next four months. The season kicks off Monday, Aug. 25, at Tokyo Dome, which is where it will culminate with the Japan X Bowl for the championship on Dec. 15.

 
“For us, anything short of a win will be a disappointment,” veteran Obic defensive end Kevin Jackson says. “I don’t think we played our best in the Pearl Bowl. But we were able to win, so I think that counts for something. Since then, we’ve been practicing, trying to get better. We expect a lot of stiff competition.”

 
The main competition is expected to come from Fujitsu, which upped the stakes by bringing in American quarterback Colby Cameron in the spring and gave the Seagulls a run for their money in the Pearl Bowl final in June.

 
Fujitsu is the only team to have beaten Obic over the past four years, a victory in last year’s Pearl Bowl semifinals that snapped the Seagulls’ 37-game winning streak.

 
But the Seagulls, who have not lost in the fall since 2009, have recently prevailed when the stakes were highest, holding on for a 24-16 victory in last year’s Japan X Bowl, then pulling off a 37-34 double-tiebreaker win in this spring’s Pearl Bowl—after getting a last-second miracle touchdown to send the game into overtime.

 
“To have it go into double overtime, it builds confidence in our guys,” Cameron says. “But then, losing also makes us even hungrier for the fall, which is the most important season. I think the guys now have a chip on their shoulder, going ‘OK, we got this far, but now we have to push ourselves over the edge.’”

 
The gap has definitely narrowed. The two teams will play in separate divisions, so if they do meet, it won’t be until the second stage at the earliest.

 
“I expect them to be back in the hunt,” Jackson says. “Whether we play them in the final this year, or play them in the playoffs, I definitely think they’re going to be there, gunning for that title.”

 
Obic will be the force to beat in the Central Division, where the top challenger will be the Lixil Deers, who will play the season-opener on Aug. 25 against the All-Mitsubishi Lions. The Deers slipped a notch in the wake of their recent change to a new sponsor, and will be aiming to relive the fading memory of their 2013 Pearl Bowl championship.

 
In the East Division, Fujitsu is grouped with the Nojima Sagamihara Rise, who made a key addition in defensive lineman Tavita Woodard out of Hawaii, and the ever-dangerous but underachieving IBM BigBlue, again led by record-setting quarterback Kevin Craft and his favorite target, tight end John Stanton.

 
The Panasonic Impulse, who also fortified their defense with the addition of a Hawaii lineman, Matthew Oh, are favored to capture a sixth straight West Division title, although the Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers are capable of rocking the boat.

 
For Fujitsu, making it to the Pearl Bowl final and nearly upsetting Obic was a major accomplishment in that the team had installed a completely new offense around Cameron, who had starred at Louisiana Tech and set an NCAA record for consecutive passes without an interception.

 
“Spring season was just a good warmup for us, getting in and installing a lot of our stuff,” Cameron says. “And now it’s working on the details of everything. Now we have the big picture, so when we get all the little fine things, it will be much easier.”

 
With the spring games under his belt, interest is high—even among his teammates—in how Cameron, whose brother Jordan is a tight end on the Cleveland Browns, will fare in the fall.

 
“Colby is probably the most highly touted player ever to play in the X-League, just because he went to the [NFL] combine, his brother is a Pro Bowler,” Fujitsu running back Gino Gordon says. “I really look forward to how people will react to that kind of player who’s entered the league. Colby has not disappointed me, at all. He’s knowledgeable in all senses of the word, he’s knows the game of football….He’s a really athletic guy.”

 
Gordon’s preparations for the fall have been slowed by a dislocated shoulder he suffered late in the Pearl Bowl final, after rushing for two touchdowns. But the Harvard graduate says he will be ready and raring to go.

 
“It’s one of those things if we were playing Obic tomorrow, I’d be playing,” he says. “So right now they’re trying to ease me back in the situation and make sure I’m fully healed and there’s no issues. When the first game happens, I’m ready to go.”

 
Also back in action after missing the spring season due to injury are defensive back Al-Rilwan Adeyami, running back Kosuke Kamiyama and defensive lineman Motoyuki Hirai.

 
“If everybody is healthy, I feel like we’re going to be a very dangerous team,” Gordon says.

 
Neither Fujitsu or Obic can expect to be hard-pressed in their opening games. The Seagulls start their campaign Aug. 31 against the newly promoted Taiyo Building Management Cranes, who they demolished in the Pearl Bowl 111-0 in the most lopsided game in league history. Likewise, Fujitsu takes on the Hurricanes on Sept. 7, a rematch of the Frontiers’ 93-0 rout in the spring.

 
One game to mark on the calendar is the Frontiers’ clash with IBM on Oct. 4 in Kawasaki, when the two American quarterbacks go head-to-head.

 
“I was able to meet him a couple of weeks ago, we had dinner,” Cameron says of his counterpart Craft, who was a starter at UCLA. “He’s a good guy. So it will be fun. I guess it will be a big stage with the two gaijin quarterbacks. But it will just be exciting to compete against the talent that he’s brought here and the talent that he has.”

 
While the underdog, the BigBlue feel they’re ready to finally get past the second stage and make a run at the championship. Last season, IBM came as close as anyone could to knocking off Obic, losing a thrilling 42-41 shootout on the Seagulls’ “home” turf in Narashino, Chiba.

 
“I think we can compete for the national championship,” head coach Shinzo Yamada says. “So we always say, if we could play against the Seagulls like last fall, we have a chance.

 
“We always talk about being champions. That’s our goal. I’m not saying there’s a high percentage of chance of winning the national championship, but I think we have a chance. It’s not like a dream. We can do it, if we play well and play up to our potential.”

 
IBM also beefed up its defensive line, adding veteran and former All-League nose guard Mitsunori Kihira, a ex-Seagull who played last season with the Challengers, and Arizona State end James Brooks, who played in Germany.

 
The BigBlue will open their season in one of a number of the league’s specially scheduled games, facing the Meiji Yasuda Pirates in Sendai as part of the league’s efforts to support revitalization of the disaster-hit Tohoku region. Yamada says the trip will provide the team with an experience that will help during the second stage.

 
“That will be great, going to a different place. It’s a challenge for us. I think it’s a good opportunity to be ready for the second stage, like going to Osaka….I think those kind of things will help our team. Obviously some things are a hassle and difficult. On the positive side, it will bond our team better.”

 
—Ken Marantz for the X-League

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