Japanese football player Yoshihito Omi was one of the talented 44 international athletes invited to the NFL’s international combine at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on Tuesday.
The first Japanese NFL player?: Omi, 25, has a shot at becoming the first-ever player to represent Japan in the NFL after being invited to participate in Tuesday’s event, which was a part of the league’s International Player Pathway program created in 2017, according to USA Today.
- “I wanted to be an NFL player,” Omi, who plays as a wide receiver, said. “But no Japanese players played in the NFL before.”
- While it’s true that the NFL has yet to introduce a Japanese player to a 53-man roster, many professional football players from Japan have already been invited into the league’s program. One of the latest players to participate in the program was running back Taku Lee earlier this year, Japan Today reported.
- “This is a great opportunity for me,” Omi said on Friday. “I’m ready. I’m ready to get the NFL IPP ticket.”
- The NFL will screen and handpick the players in London before proceeding to the next part of the program, where they will train for three months in the U.S., the St. Loius Post-Dispatch reported. Those who are lucky enough may land a contract with a professional team for the upcoming season.
Other details: Omi has always been a fan of football, even as a child. He would often watch games on TV or play catch with his former college football player father.
- The sport’s popularity grew in Japan through the years, and Omi believed the anime “Eyeshield 21” was one of the contributing factors that inspired many people to get into football.
- However, Omi’s football career in Japan did not have a good start. The player reportedly joined X-League, the country’s top football league consisting of company-sponsored teams, where he played for IBM Big Blue. The international players in the league, mostly Americans, were compensated with jobs instead of a salary befitting a professional player.
- “We only have practice on weekends, Saturday and Sunday,” he said. “And the other weekdays, we work at the company.”
- In early 2020, Omi played for The Spring League in the U.S. and then played in the startup league called the European League of Football soon after, where he played for the Leipzig Kings.
- He hopes to become the second Japanese player to reach the training phase in the U.S. after Lee. The latter is now playing as a running back in the Canadian Football League.
- “I’m so very excited and I think I can be the one,” Omi said.