Foreign Exchange: Japanese players tread new ground at Under Armour combine

Under Armour Inc. is known for its innovative sports apparel and accessories.

Over the past several years Under Armour has branched out into sponsoring several college football teams such as Auburn and Maryland as well as many top athletes like Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

The Baltimore-based company also sponsors the Under Armour All-America Game and Under Armour Underclassmen Combine that attends annually.

Both events draw elite high school football players from across the nation and provide a venue for them to showcase their talents to the world before moving to the collegiate level.

While there are several other All-American games in the country, Under Armour’s game differs as it also brings in former NFL players to coach the game.

This past year, Steve Mariucci and Herm Edwards were the coaches, and former players like Deion Sanders and Lavar Arrington were out at practices helping.

Now, Under Armour is going international to reach audiences outside of the United States.

“Under Armour is trying to move worldwide,” said Walker Jones, Under Armour’s Senior Director of Sports Marketing. “We want to make our brand worldwide while also keeping up in our home base in the United States.”

The forward thinking of Under Armour in the efforts to help bring American football worldwide took a step forward in 2013.

At the 2013 UA Underclassmen Combine in St. Petersburg, Fla., last Friday, Under Armour used the event as a vehicle to drive American football into countries outside of the U.S.

With the help of Tokyo Dome Corporation (Under Armour’s Japanese partner), Under Armour was able to bring a pair of Japanese players to the combine to showcase their skills against American competition.

“It took a lot of help from Dome to make this happen,” Jones said. “They helped get the Japanese players over and helped with the plans and the schedule for those guys.”

Quarterback Yuto Nishiyama and offensive lineman Shintaro Kibo made history as the first Japanese football players in the annual event.

“Those guys were real excited when they found out about this opportunity,” Jones said. “They were excited to come over to the U.S. and compete.”

The Japanese players echoed what Jones said when visited with both through a translator after experiencing the event — one neither will never forget.

“It was such a good experience at the top level in the U.S.,” Nishiyama said. “I learned a lot about my skill level and also where I need to grow, so I’m going to take that back with me.”

“It was a different level of competition over here,” Kibo said. “The level of play and the speed of the one-on-one drills in the competition was good.”

Under Armour is hoping over the next several years to potentially sponsor an American football combine in Japan. According to the Japanese players, their trip to the Sunshine State was a giant leap in the right direction.

“This was a great first step for Japanese players,” Nishiyama said. “I can’t wait to go back to Japan and share my experience with other players. And also share what I learned as a quarterback with other quarterbacks in practice and games in Japan.”

Japanese players rarely have the opportunity to see an American football player in action, let alone in person. Before the combine, they had certainly never experienced what it was like to go against American players in a live format either.

Thanks to Under Armour and Dome, the duo now can tell its Japanese teammates what American football was like firsthand.

“Back home we always want to know how we match up,” Nishiyama said. “Now, I’m able to see where I am at compared to the U.S. players, so coming over here was big for me and will help me develop more as a player.”

“Kids always want to see the skill of U.S. players in Japan,” Kibo said. “Now, that we have done it we can share that experience and other Japanese kids will want to come back over here.

“This was a big event for us.”

It was just as big of an event for Under Armour, as it continues bridging the gap internationally in football.

This is all in hopes the game of football catches on worldwide in a similar fashion to the way basketball and soccer has in recent years.

Big thanks goes out to Under Armour for the time and effort in takes to not only put on the Under Armour game but to also do great things like they have done with foreign affairs this year.

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Andrew Spivey
Andrew always knew he wanted to be involved with sports in some capacity. He began by coaching high school football for six years before deciding to pursue a career in journalism. While coaching, he was a part of two state semifinal teams in the state of Alabama. Given his past coaching experience, he figured covering recruiting would be a perfect fit. He began his career as an intern for, covering University of Florida football recruiting. After interning with Rivals for six months, he joined the Gator Country family as a recruiting analyst. Andrew enjoys spending his free time on the golf course and watching his beloved Atlanta Braves. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewSpiveyGC.