Defensive End #11 Kevin Jackson
Regarded as a pioneer among American players in Japan. After playing at Hawaii University, he was invited to the Green Bay Packers mini-camp. He made his X-League debut with the Seagulls in 2005 and established himself as the premier pass rusher in the league. He has been selected to the All X-League Team for a record 10 consecutive years. (34, 193 cm, 108 kg)
Coming to Japan
What was your main reason for coming to Japan? What did you want to get out of it?
I studied at the University of Hawaii. And during my studies there, I actually majored in Asian History with emphasis on Japanese History. Through that, my studies, and a lot of friends and acquaintances I made in Hawaii, I traveled back and forth to Japan quite a bit when I was a student. So I had a pretty solid group of friends here.
My last season at the University of Hawaii, we had a coach come and intern with our coaching staff. A Japanese coach, who was at the time coaching for the Seagulls. And he spent a little over a year with us in Hawaii, and during his time there, it was really convenient for me. Because here I was, a kid studying Japanese, and at football practice, all of a sudden this Japanese guy shows up. Perfect opportunity for me to practice and stuff. Over the course of that year, we became good friends and ended up rooming together.
After school, I still kept in contact with a lot of my Japanese friends in Hawaii as well as in Japan. I was in camp with the Packers, I was hoping to stay on the roster. But that didn't work out, and I went back to Hawaii afterwards. I trained in the hopes of perhaps getting a shot with another team. That never materialized, and while I was waiting there, I got a call from my friend. He had recently moved back to Japan and was coaching with the Seagulls, and he asked me if I wanted to come and play in Japan. So I said, 'Why not?'
At the time, the Seagulls didn't have any American players.
(※Photo: going in for the sack against Eastern Illinois University quarterback, Tony Romo (Dallas Cowboys quarterback）
How did you feel about moving to Japan?
I felt I knew a bit about Japan. I was always one of those guys who wanted to get away from home. To get away from what was considered normal, or the status quo. So I was all up for the challenge of doing something a little bit out of the ordinary.
Football in Japan
What is your impression of Japanese football?
The Japanese do a fairly good job of organizing the game here. It's definitely different, scale-wise. You go from playing at university--we had some away games at places like USC, these huge stadiums, 70,000-plus people--to coming to a game where we sometimes had a few hundred, or maybe a thousand or two. So definitely scale-wise it's a little different. There's definitely a lot of getting used to things.
The play on the field, it's pretty much the same. I think the scale thing kind of translates over to the players as well. The players are smaller, not as fast as a lot of the better American players which you might see in the better divisions in the U.S. college game. But as far as organization--actually what guys are doing, what teams are trying to do, like systems and stuff like that--it's pretty much a lot of the same stuff that we have back home. My original impression was, OK, this pretty similar, this is just like what we do. Maybe the terminology is little bit different, or some differences in culture. But pretty much the objectives and what everyone's trying to do is the same.
How has it progressed over the years?
I think it's gotten a lot better. I think Japanese teams have done a fairly good job of trying to keep up. They're a bit slow as far as newer trends and things like that. But at the same time, a lot of the offenses here have transitioned into the kind of offenses that was see in the States right now. A lot of information has trickled down and I think it's gotten a lot better. The athletes are better maybe as a whole, on average. When I first got here, you had some guys, monsters, but now teams as a whole are a little more better.
What is the appeal of the Seagulls as a team?
The thing I like about our team is we're always looking to try something new. The pioneering spirit, I think, by our team is really attractive. Kind of always on the forefront on changes in the world of Japanese football.
What's different from playing for American team?
Football as a machine, as a system, is mature in America. You're brought in to be a player, you focus on what you need to do, first, second, third, fourth down. That's pretty much all that's expected of you. But at the Seagulls and maybe Japanese football at large, especially for American players, it's not required, but it's appreciated if you could help in a lot of different ways, and not just on-field play. Anything you can bring from your prior experience--the way practice is run, just organizing stuff, film breakdown, a lot of the good stuff you learn in the NCAA--is needed over here. It's not as mature, so you're expected to play and teach.
Living in Japan
What is it like living in Japan?
Living in Japan is great. I couldn't see myself anywhere else right now.
Coming into it, you kind of expect things to be different. But Japan is a comfortable place to live. There are some huge challenges, as far as like language and things like that. But I think Japanese people as a whole are really patient and understanding people. And if you show that you are willing to learn or try to go out of your way to make something happen, they're even more appreciative of that.
The obvious things--food culture--are different. But at the same time, there's access to anything that you could get back home, you can get out here. It might take some getting used to public transportation and things like that. Things are obviously smaller here--smaller rooms, doorways. But for the most part, it's a pretty smooth adjustment, if you're open to adventurous type things.
What do you do off the field?
I like to travel. Being from the States, it's different. Exposed to a different type of culture, and being in Japan, you're in close proximity to a lot of places that are hard to access from the States, a lot of Asia.
I like to play with my kid. He's getting bigger, playing with him, teaching him stuff, watching him grow, that's always fun.
I like to walk, too. If I have any time, I love to walk and listen to music.
What is it like balancing football with a job?
That's a huge difference. It takes some getting used to. Since I've been here, I've had--looking at it both ways, the pleasure, or the opposite of that---of having a few different jobs here in Japan while playing football. So I've been in some comfortable situations, I've been in some not-so-comfortable situations. And that is probably the hardest thing, is balancing working with playing.
How about practicing only on weekends and holidays?
There's a different way to look at it, too. It's good, especially for guys who come from the big NCAA programs, or maybe NFL camps. The wear and tear on the body, you kind of save yourself from a lot of that. Looking back at it now, it's kind of amazing that I got through years of those high-intensity practices every day, and some pretty strenuous, stressful games every weekend. If you're looking at it like that, it's good because you can get a lot done, and at the same time, you can get your body the added rest.
But at the same time as a team, it's hard to get a lot of work done, a lot of quality practice time.
Advice to prospective players
Attitude is the most important thing. You can't expect things here to be how they are in the States. Football is king there and it's definitely not king here. We're behind a long list of other sports; sports that maybe people haven't even heard of in the U.S. So if you maintain a positive attitude, a willing-to-help-build-something-type attitude, is probably most appropriate for anyone coming here to play football. Just being a player is not enough.