From Land of the Rising Sun to Louisville
Furutani a fan favorite
Fire receiver/defensive back 'really excelling'
By C. RAY HALL
Takuya Furutani, a 27-year-old advertising salesman in Chiba, Japan, became a member of the Louisville Fire by way of arenafootball2's international draft.
Furutani became the first international player to win one of arenafootball2's weekly honors after scoring two TDs vs. Memphis.
Takuya Furutani, left, talked with Fire quarterback Matt Sauk during a practice. "All (the) guys," Furutani said, "talk English too fast."
Arena football can be played with a surprising number of civilians on the field — not just referees and coaches but actual folks coming out of the crowd to kick and throw things for promotions.
After Saturday's Louisville Fire game, civilians streamed onto the field at Freedom Hall. Some wanted autographs. Others wanted the shirts off the players' backs. And they got them, thanks to a charity auction. Yellow lettering on the red jerseys identified the charity: "Crusade for Children."
After kicker Marc Samuel's jersey went for $90, No. 20 stepped up, looking a little shy.
No. 20 is Takuya Furutani, a wide receiver and defensive back. In Japan, Furutani is an advertising salesman and amateur football player. He is so dedicated to football that he delayed his honeymoon. On March 10, two days before the Fire's first practice, he married his fiancée, Yuki.
"After three hours," he said, "I flew here. She was angry."
The honeymoon was on hold until April 20, when Yuki joined him in Louisville. Furutani first played for the Fire two Saturdays ago in a 70-63 victory at Memphis. He scored two touchdowns and was named the arenafootball2 Ironman of the Week — the first international player to win one of the league's weekly honors.
Saturday night against Albany, he ran an early 4-yard touchdown but was stopped short of the goal in the fourth quarter of a 60-56 loss. After the game, Furutani stood in the end zone, facing the crowd of bidders. Hands quickly shot into the air.
One bespectacled fan, Tony Madison, joined other energetic bidders for Furutani's jersey. But as the bids reached $80, Madison dropped out.
"I thought it was out of my league," he would say later.
Unbeknownst to him, his wife, Jackie, had a plan.
"He was going to stop at 80," she said, "and I walked up behind him and put my hand up."
They got Furutani's jersey for $110, delighting Tony.
"Absolutely," he said. "I wanted the jersey."
Tony explained that Furutani's status as a Japanese athlete playing American football made the jersey an attractive souvenir. "And," he said, "he's a good player."
Furutani, who is 27, stands 5 feet 9 and weighs 180 pounds. This means he routinely is slammed to the spongy playing surface or hammered against the wall by players who outweigh him by 70 pounds. In Saturday's failed touchdown run, he was buried under about a ton of friendly and unfriendly humans. Even so, this is all so much joy and wonder compared with his routine back in Japan.
He leaves his home in Chiba at 8:30a.m. for a half-hour subway ride into Tokyo. He works 14 hours selling advertising for a publishing house, then gets back home at 11:30 p.m. After the arena football season, he'll return home to that job.
"I like football," he said. "I have fun every day. But in Japan from Monday through Friday I am very busy."
In high school, football wasn't an option. He played baseball — as a shortstop. Ask him about the best part of his game and he says, "Bunting."
He went on to Kansai University, where he studied finance and picked up football. He plays running back for the Chiba Seagulls, an amateur team. Here's how he went from the Seagulls into the Fire: "We had an international draft ... and Taku was rated the No. 1 running back," Fire owner Will Wolford explained.
"Within a month he went from not knowing the offense, not really comfortable catching the ball — and certainly not catching it on a small field in traffic — to really excelling."
In Japan, Furutani might practice with the defense but played only offense in games. On a 21-man arena football team, he must do double duty. Back home, he noted, defenders can't grab receivers without being called for interference. Here, defenders can grab receivers for the first 5 yards.
"In Japan, I don't grab," he said. "But now I like (to) grab."
"He's still working on that defense part," Fire coach Tommy Johnson said. "It does surprise me that he's as physical as he is. He'll come up and hit you."
He also gets hit back — by far bigger players.
"He hasn't really had a problem with that," Johnson said. "He does a good job of taking hits. He knows when to fall and when to take a guy on. He's not crazy."
Carrying the ball against American players presents new challenges.
"American players hit harder than Japanese players," Furutani said, "and American players hit ball (trying to cause fumbles)."