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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Coaches, players from Japanese football team visit to WSU to get insight from Leach and watch Cougars practice

Coaches and players from a university team in Japan have been visiting WSU to watch the Cougar football team practice. (WSU photo)

PULLMAN – While Pac-12 football teams compete every fall for West Coast supremacy, a proxy struggle plays out on the other side of the world.

David Stant, an old friend of Washington State football coach Mike Leach, coaches American football at Keio University in Tokyo. He, his assistant coaches and three of his quarterbacks have been on campus at Washington State to watch the Cougars practice and gather knowledge to use against opponents who emulate other Pac-12 schools.

Stant, a former defensive lineman at the University of Hawaii, is well-versed in Leach’s Air Raid offense. Back in the late 1990s, when Leach was an offensive coordinator at Kentucky, he visited Stant in Japan and helped put on a clinic.

Once Leach got the head coaching position at Texas Tech, Stant began making return visits.

“They had the camp right in the middle of one of those baseball stadiums,” Leach said. “Over the years, we’ve had a number of Japanese coaches from a number of Japanese teams.”

At that time, Stant was coaching the Obic Seagulls, the most successful team in the X League, in which they compete against teams playing for companies such as IBM and Fujitsu.

The biggest corporations recruit employees strictly to play football. They have a job in the company, but spend most of their time playing football, and then when they retire they already have a job to fall back on.

The sport is rapidly becoming more popular in Japan, and prominent college and NFL games are available on TV.

“Now they have flag football and kids play at a younger age, so the parents are getting into it,” Stant said. “A lot of kids are coming to America to either study or go to school. So, it’s changed a lot of people’s lives.”

Keio, the university where Stant now coaches, has three alumni who became prime ministers and 230 who became CEOs of major companies, such as Toshiba, Toyota and Warner Music Japan. The school has an 8 percent acceptance rate, and does not make the concessions for athletes that are common among American universities with prominent athletics programs.

But a Keio game can still look like Pac-12 football. That’s because some of the coaches who Stant competes against have relationships with Chip Kelly, the architect of Oregon’s offense, and Japanese teams have long made a habit of cribbing plays from the top American programs.

“What we do is we actually start watching Oregon games in America, to see what they’re trying to do, and see what defenses are doing against Oregon,” Stant said. “We also face a team that plays like Utah.”