For College of the Canyons wide receiver Jumpei Dobashi, who is from Kawasaki, Japan, football has been a part of his life since childhood.
That’s unusual for Japanese youth, as baseball, soccer, tennis, even sumo take precedence over football.
“It’s obviously a minor sport. In Japan it’s usually soccer or baseball, those are the main ones,” Dobashi said. “Not many people know football.”
However, Dobashi’s upbringing was different than most other Japanese kids. He moved to Portland, Oregon when he was 3 years old and was introduced to football at an early age.
Aside from football, he was able to play an array of sports for the five years he lived in the U.S., an experience most Japanese children cannot relate to.
Playing a variety of sports also helped him excel on the football field.
“In Japan, a player would only play one sport throughout the year,” Dobashi explained. “But because I was able to play different sports over here — swimming, soccer, baseball, basketball and football — I think that definitely helped me as an athlete today.”
At 8 years old, Dobashi moved back to his home country and continued to play football until high school. It was then that he decided if he wanted to take the game seriously, he would have to move back to the U.S., as the opportunities to play football in Japan pale in comparison.
With the support of his parents, Dobashi moved back to America to live with a host family, this time in Southern California.
His decision was made easier by the fact that a friend and former teammate in Japan, Hidetaka Kanazawa, was attending and playing football at Alemany High School in Mission Hills.
“Without [Kanazawa] I definitely wouldn’t be here and I don’t even know if I’d be in America right now,” Dobashi said. “I’m very thankful for him.”
At Alemany, Dobashi also connected with Ted Iacenda, the assistant head coach at the time and current head coach at COC.
After high school graduation, Dobashi moved back to Japan for six months to spend time with his family and work, but ultimately decided he wanted to come back to the U.S. to play football.
Kanazawa had played at COC after he graduated and his endorsement of the school, as well as playing for a familiar coaching staff were the main catalysts in swaying Dobashi to Canyons.
“There’s two big reasons I came to play for COC. One was Coach I (Iacenda) and his connection with Alemany,” Dobashi said. “Coach O (Seth Oseransky) was also my coach at Alemany so I felt comfortable coming into this football program.
“The other reason was Hide (Kanazawa). He played his first year at COC and really recommended the school and program.”
For now, Dobashi’s short-term goal is to play at the next level at a Division 1 school that also “satisfies him academically.”
His long-term goal remains the same one he’s had since high school: playing in the NFL.
“When I came from Japan in high school, my goal was to become the first Japanese NFL player. There hasn’t been an NFL player born in Japan yet,” he said. “I think once we get that first NFL player, the popularity of football in Japan will skyrocket.
“I now understand how difficult it is. It’s not nearly as easy I thought it would be, but that is the goal that I set and I still want to pursue that.”
While making the NFL might be a long shot, Dobashi would be satisfied being part of a generation that brings new life to a sport that has had little traction in his home country.
“There are a lot of good football players, in my opinion, in Japan but don’t have the opportunity,” he said. “Recently there has been more and more younger generations coming out here. So hopefully players like me and the other guys that are out here can go back to Japan and really improve the level of football.”