By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Staff Writer
Knocked loopy the first game of the season?
Figuring out Japanese verbs and counters?
For San Marino junior wide receiver Jace Tanaka, the transition from basketball to football has proven to be simpler than deciphering the native language of his grandparents.
“I don’t practice speaking Japanese with them, not at all, but they’re excited that I’m playing football,” admitted Tanaka, who said he’s doing his best to improve on his C-level grades in his Japanese class. “I actually went to Japanese school when I was younger, and I still don’t quite get it.”
Comparatively, moving from the hardwood to the gridiron has been a breeze for Tanaka, 16, who played basketball for years before considering another sport.
“I played only basketball growing up, so I felt like I wanted to try something else,” he said before last Friday’s football game against Golden Valley. Having moved up through the ranks in leagues like the Community Youth Council and Friends Of Richard (where he still plays), he was a natural to join San Marino’s team. However, internal conflicts and a desire to find something new led him to look toward football in his sophomore year.
“My dad steered me toward it, but my mom wasn’t too excited,” Tanaka explained, telling of his mother, Marcella’s concerns over a bunch of 300-pound hulks tackling her son. “But she came to a game and she realized it wasn’t that bad,” he said.
As it turns out, Mom’s fears were not unfounded. In the first contest of this season at Gabrielino, Tanaka was clipped during a run and suffered a concussion that has kept him out of game action since.
“I got the ball and a couple of guys jumped on me and the back of my head hit the turf,” he recalled. “I had to go to the emergency room, but I was okay, awake and alert.”
Titans head coach Mike Mooney said that although Tanaka wasn’t badly hurt, any head injury is serious and they are giving him plenty of time to fully recover before putting him on the field.
“They told me if it hurts to sit out,” Tanaka explained. “I’ve already missed a couple of weeks, so I want to get back out there.”
As for breaking the news to mom after the injury, Tanaka said, “Actually, I didn’t tell her. She knows now, so it’s okay.”
As San Marino (2-3) prepares for this Friday’s Rio Hondo League opener at Temple City, Tanaka said he hopes he’s declared fit for his role on the team.
“I love trying to do my job: catching the ball, running and trying to score points for my team.”
Mooney said that Tanaka, listed on Max Preps at a svelte 5-foot-7 and 130 pounds and in only his second season of football, will see limited action as a junior who’s in recovery. The coach added, however, that he has shown an impressive adaptability in transitioning between sports.
“Jace’s physical abilities are matched by his aptitude for the game,” Mooney said. “He shows an amazing intelligence for football and when we put him out there, he’s completely in the game. He completely gets it,” Mooney said.
Tanaka said the key to a win this week will be keeping the opponent from scoring. The Titans are averaging 24.6 points per game and have allowed only 19.4, but they have been beaten by at least two touchdowns in each of their last three matchups.
Looking ahead, Tanaka said that despite leaving the basketball team at San Marino, he hopes to pick up the ball again in college, perhaps at Pacific University in Oregon, where his father, Duane, played baseball.
For the time being, Tanaka is concentrating on being healthy and continuing developing his football skills, in a new realm of training and expectations.
“I love being out here,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of new people and have some new challenges. That’s what makes life interesting.”
San Marino plays its first Rio Hondo League match this Friday at Temple City High School. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.