Despite being thousands of miles away from Hawaii, Japan is becoming home to several local boys trying to further their professional football dreams.
Japan’s X-League has been a go-to destination for Hawaii football players since its establishment 45 years ago. The Aloha State is heavily represented through the Obic Seagulls with three Hawaii boys on the roster. Only four import players are allowed per team, making the Seagulls the most locally flavored organisation in the league.
Former University of Hawaii defensive end Kevin Jackson made his X-League debut with the Seagulls in 2005 and became an elite pass rusher in the league. Jackson was the Seagulls first American football player and was selected to the All X-League Team for the past 10 consecutive years.
Japan’s X-League isn’t all about football. All players are required to work and put in hours for sponsoring corporations while representing them on the turf. Jackson said it’s a great way to create opportunities on and off the field.
“It’s pretty good living and you have a lot of time as well,” said Jackson. “If you are interested in other jobs or trying to further your career in something, you have plenty of opportunities. We got some guys in here going into banking, we got some guys in medical stuff.”
Kahuku’s BJ Beatty is well known in the X-League from his hard hits and tenacity. The former Red Raider made his debut as a Seagull in 2012 and earned All X-League honors in 2013. Beatty most recently represented the United States team at the World Championship as captain of the squad in 2015. He’s also the nephew of current Rainbow Warrior football offensive line coach Chris Naeole.
Beatty explained that playing for the Seagulls was a chance to continue to chase a dream and insists that it’s a great opportunity for those looking to do the same.
“I would say I’m blessed to continue to play this sport that I’ve loved and I’m lucky to do it at an international scale,” said Beatty. “Getting to travel, getting to meet these guys. You know if you had asked me five years ago if I’d be in Japan with good friends, I probably would’ve laughed.
Guys that are successful in school as well as football, this is an opportunity for them to come here and continue to play also gain experience on a worldwide level.”
The heart of the Seagulls offense comes from Baldwin’s Kai Maiava who started his career in the X-League in 2013. He was named Rookie of the Year and All X-League the same year.
Maiava offered some advice to local boys looking to pursue an international pro-football career and said don’t let the distance be intimidating.
“I’d say go for it,” said Maiava. “I mean why not? It’s a great place to live, you know it’s a good experience, especially coming from Hawaii it’s so close for us. I’d just tell them go for it, I mean I did. I was kind of nervous at first, but once I got out here all my teammates and everything it’s like playing back at home. “
Japan has seen many Hawaii football players come through in the past including former Rainbow Warrior Karl Noa, Kailua’s Rocky Alo, Kahuku’s David Stant and Kaniela Tuipulotu.