DII Football: Ashland coach travels from Japan to pursue dream
The National Football League has sought to bring football to the global masses, an effort which includes regular-season games in both England and Mexico.
Closer to home, Ashland University's football program has had its own international flavor this fall, as Kyohei Kosaka served as an observer of American football and helped coach linebackers during the 2016 season.
"I like this game a lot. I love this game," Kosaka said. "That's the first thought that I had. If I could be around the game, I just wanted to be around. I thought becoming a coach is one way to support the Japanese football community. This path will lead me somewhere."
According to a recent ESPN.com article by Kevin Seifert, Japan was introduced to American football in 1934. Japan's top league, the X-League, has 18 teams.
One of those teams in the X-League is the Tokyo Gas Creators. Their head coach and offensive coordinator is Kurt Rose – Ashland University defensive coordinator Tim Rose's son. Kurt Rose coached Kosaka at Keio University, a school which has had football since 1935.
Coach K is in the Spotlight! Japan native Kyohei Kosaka served as an observer of American football and linebackers coach this fall. pic.twitter.com/6i9R6hRyCu— Ashland Football (@AshlandFB) November 17, 2016
"Kyohei was a three-year starter at left tackle for me at Keio University," Kurt Rose said. "Even as a freshman, he made an impact pushing and challenging the senior defensive linemen and making us a better team overall. He was an excellent player, reliable and a good leader. In Japan, most of the teams don't have assistant coaches. Usually, the senior players become 'position leaders' and work together to decide practice plans and help develop the younger players. Because of Kyohei's English abilities, he was my translator for three years. He helped me communicate to the offense and to the team my ideas and expectations and strategy. So, in a way, he was the 'assistant head coach.' So pretty early, I thought he had the insight and willingness to think like a coach."
Kosaka lived in San Diego in his youth and still loves the San Diego Chargers to this day. When he moved to Japan, he played high school football before playing at Keio.
Kosaka, 28, decided to leave his job in Japan and pursue his dream of being an American football coach in the United States. The possibility was discussed with AU head football coach Lee Owens, and by the end of July, right before the start of training camp, he was in Ashland and ready to work.
"In Japan, you can't really eat by coaching football or playing football, so you have to have some kind of job to live," Kosaka said. "I used to work as a marketing consultant back in Japan for an American company called Deloitte. Meanwhile, I was coaching football with coach Rose's son. I was thinking that if had a chance to go into coaching, then I would love to go in."
The transition to coaching in America hasn't always been smooth, however. Kosaka had to leave the team the week of the road trip to Kentucky Wesleyan due to visa issues.
"It is frustrating, but I just try to concentrate on what I can control, what I can do for myself," he said. "I missed the game. I feel bad about that, but you can't really do anything about it."
Tim Rose said the Eagle players like Kosaka and gravitated to him throughout the 2016 campaign.
"We may have a big staff in terms of Division II, but this is not a big staff in terms of what people have," he said. "The big boys have no more than 100, 105 kids on a team. We have 150, 160, 170. We don't have a big staff, so anybody who can assist you is really critical, and yeah, he's done a great job of assisting the young linebackers. I gave him an analyst job to do, and he did an incredible job studying linebacker play for the whole season. He helps set up drills. He'll do anything we ask him to do. He just wants to learn, and he's learning. And he's showed me that he's capable of going to a bigger program as a graduate assistant and doing a great job."
Kosaka said, "I can't really tell how they (the players) receive me. They treat me as a coach, and they're really nice kids, and I'm happy to be with them and working with them. It's a great opportunity."
For Kurt Rose, the intertwining of his football lives this fall has been something special.
"Kyohei and I are both grateful to coach Owens and the staff for giving him this opportunity to learn," he said. "It's certainly special for me to have my former 'assistant head coach' working with my hero."
Kosaka now has had the opportunity to learn under two football-coaching Roses, of which he says, "It's interesting. Kurt respects his father a lot. I respect both of those guys a lot. Their attitude towards football is very similar, I think."
As for beyond 2016, Kosaka isn't sure what the future holds, except that he wants that future to include coaching American football.
"Nobody knows about next year. If I have a chance next year, I would love to come back," he said. "If that's Ashland, it will be better. I would love to stay in the States and coach football. I think I have a lot more things to learn. I need to do more things here before I go back to Japan. I would love to stay."