[ODDS and EVENS] Yosuke Sugano’s college football career offers a valuable lesson in perseverance

Ambition is a powerful motivational force.

For some people, it’s a blanket idea. For others, it’s a guiding principle.

Yosuke Sugano’s ambition is paired with a strong desire to be an influential figure in the development of American football in Japan.

After transferring to Syracuse University, he has two years of eligibility left as a college football player.

I saw headlines last week that Sugano had made a verbal commitment to playing football at Syracuse Orange, an Atlantic Coast Conferences school. So I asked him about his trip from Japan to New York.

Sugano, who turns 24 in September, plans to arrive on campus in Syracuse upstate New York in early July to pursue his goals while continuing his education. He will enroll in the school’s Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation program, which he considers a building block for success.

“This program focuses on how to create the environment that humans want to study in, which is the study of how to increase human motivation,” Sugano told me. “My dream after the end of my football career is to contribute to the development of Japanese football by becoming a football coach. Therefore, I thought that this postgraduate program is the best program for me.”

Enjoyable trip

Sugano, who hails from Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, arrived at Saint Francis University (Pennsylvania) in 2018. He graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in strategic communications.

His football journey is an interesting (and inspiring) tale of dedication. Sugano who is 5 feet 10 (about 178 cm) tall and 225 pounds (102 kg) loves soccer, a sport that has yet to produce a Japanese player in the NFL.

Despite its place as a minor sport in the overall ranking of team sports in its homeland, Sugano revere it. It is his favorite sport.

Sugano played football at Kwansei Gakuen High School, located in Nishinomiya, Hyōgo Prefecture, contributing to back-to-back National Championship teams for fighters in his first two years there.

During his senior year, the fighters participated in a summer football camp at Greenville Senior High School in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, which is located in the northwestern section of the state, near the Ohio border. His commitment to football as a high school student led to one of the defining chapters of his life.

“During that summer camp experience, I felt like I really wanted to try my football skills at a US college, not a Japanese college,” Sugano recalls.

So, after camp, I called the Grenfell High School coach, and then decided to attend GHS for one year, to get the offer from an American college.

“Because GHS has a program for international students, they have housing for international students. So, I went to the US myself. My parents haven’t come to the US yet.”

It was an unforgettable experience for him, adjusting to life in a foreign country for the first time.

“I was the only Japanese in Greenville at the time,” Sugano stated.

The comfort zone on the football field

Thousands of miles away from his hometown, he found a level of familiarity with playing for the GHS football team, and it was an essential stepping stone in the pursuit of his long-term goals.

In his first year with the Trojans, Sugano was a productive defensive player, contributing 62 tackles (46 singles), 10 sacks, two forced stumbles, and three falter recalls. GHS went 9-3 in 2017 and competed in the Pennsylvania AA Playoffs.

Sugano’s productivity helped him catch the attention of the coaching staff at St. Francis University. He pursued his football career in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA). Lying at the top level of Division I, Syracuse competes in the Championship Football Division alongside top-ranked schools such as Notre Dame, Michigan, Alabama, and Clemson.

In 2018, Sugano played one game as a freshman in the Saint Francis line of defense. He was granted red shirt status, which meant maintaining and postponing the sports eligibility season.

As a rookie the following year, he was a regular contributor to the Red Flash defense, appearing in each of the 12 Northeast Conference School games. Sugano scored 21 tackles (15 singles) and two forms while playing on the defensive line.

Sugano turned quarterback for the 2020 campaign, but the Northeast Conference School of the Northeast Conference season has been canceled due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

A look back at the 2021 season

In 2021, after the team’s year-long hiatus, Sugano returned to the field and continued his progression as a college player. He appeared in all eleven St. Francis matches, made 12 tackles and scored twice.

Two games stand out when you look at Sugano’s numbers for the full season. On October 2, forced to fumble, he grabbed a sack and made an intervention twice against Morgan State.

Seven days later, he had a performance of four interventions and one bag in the 55-10 of the Long Island University Conference competition.

Looking back at the four seasons he spent in St. Francis, Sugano highlighted his love of the game and athletic competition in response to one of my questions: What are your favorite football memories there? This is what he said:

“My favorite memory of SFU is the first time I played the game as a novice player.”

He noted that he was fifth on the depth chart when he arrived at the school. Which seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle to him.

Or as he put it: “So, at the time, I thought I would never be able to play a game here.”

But Sugano stuck with it, practiced it and prepared for it, both physically and mentally.

“So, in the first match I played as a starting player in my second year, I was very happy,” he said.

Consider this a valuable lesson in perseverance.

Next Challenges

But the Sugano football story is not over yet. However, he realizes that he will probably face a formidable challenge to earn regular playing time as a linebacker as a graduating student in 2022 for Orange coach Dino Baber’s side.

Syracuse has remarkable depth and talent in the position, including American nominee Mikel Jones, a senior captain, and distinguished teammates Stefon Thompson and Marlowe Wax.

Maintaining a positive outlook for the upcoming season, which begins on September 3 against a visit to Louisville, Sugano said: “I understand it will be very difficult to play in the game. However, I don’t want to give up. So my goal for the first year is to be selected as a member of the Private team and to play the game at least as a rotation member.

Then, in my second year, [my goal] You will play the game as a start.”

For the guy who admits he knew nothing about American football until he started playing it as a first-year student at Kwansei Gakuin Junior High School, Sugano has come a long way.

Before starting his future coaching career, Yosuke Sugano wants to become the first Japanese in the NFL.

Indeed, it is a noble ambition.

The next two seasons in Syracuse will be an important opportunity for player development for him.

Author: Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] over here On Sunday, in [Odds and Evens] over here During the week, Twitter @ed_odevenAnd the You can find it on the JAPAN Forward website dedicated to sports, Sports.