By Jordan Ikeda
RAFU SPORTS EDITOR
Nisei Haruki Nakamura plays back-up safety and special teams for the Baltimore Ravens in the National Football League. Nakamura is heading into his second season after an impressive rookie campaign that was highlighted by a career high five tackles against the Tennessee Titans in last year’s AFC second round match-up.
Nakamura played college football at Cincinnati where he accumulated 237 tackles over his three seasons. Last year he was drafted in the sixth round of the NFL Draft by the Ravens and had 12 tackles in 16 games as a rookie.
The recently turned 23-year-old took some time out of his busy schedule, the day before training camp, to chat with the Rafu about the upcoming season.
RAFU: What’s the difference between playoff football and regular season football?
HARUKI NAKAMURA: I would say that the intensity of a playoff game is completely different than the intensity of a regular season game just because you’re playing for a lot more. In the regular season, you’re playing to get into the playoffs. Once you’re in the playoffs, you’re playing for a title that is so rare in a lot of people’s careers. If you think about it, there’s plenty of players that go through their NFL career and don’t even get a chance to play in the playoffs, let alone be a game away from or in the Super Bowl. I was very fortunate to be one game away with our team. It was a pretty special moment, but you know, our ultimate goal is to get into the Super Bowl.
RAFU: For this season, how do you feel about the team and your spot on the squad?
HN: Well, I think this year, we’re going to be very good. We have a lot to build on from last year. I don’t think we have too much pressure on ourselves because we kind of know what to expect out of our team. We always hold ourselves accountable for the way things work in a game. There’s never a game where we go in there thinking we can’t win. As far as my role, everybody has a role on the team, you know. You just kind of pick and choose what it’s going to be. Last year it was a lot of special teams and certain things on the defense. Obviously, as your years progress in the NFL, your role will progress. I’m sure that my role this year will progress as anybody else would.
RAFU: As far as playing with some of the bigger defensive stars on one of the best defensive teams in the league, who has taken you under his wing?
HN: The one guy who has really taken me under his wing is Ed Reed last year. To have him kind of coach me up but at the same time he’d be there more as a big brother, to have a guy there like that who is going to be a future hall of famer, he’s probably one of the best if not the best safety to ever play the game. To have him talk to you on a personal level, he’s a very humble guy, very down to earth, to have that sort of access to a guy like that was pretty incredible to have as a rookie. With guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, and you know we’ve got [Hatoli] Ngata, so many big name guys, to have the sort of cohesiveness that we have on our team is pretty rare. We have a very tight-knit group. We are very team-oriented. No one person is bigger than the other. It’s good to have a locker room like that and it’s very easy for us to all focus all of our work towards one goal. When you have something like that, then it’s really easy to be successful.
RAFU: Especially in football and basketball, there’s not too many Asian faces out there that people in our com¬munity can look up to. Do you feel a responsibility or look at it as a challenge to step up as a role model?
HN: Well absolutely. It’s something to show that Asian Americans can play in the NFL or any professional sport. There’s guys like Yao Ming who are high profile players who are Asian. The thing is, I think it’s our responsibility to show kids growing up that professional sports is a possibility. It could be an opportunity for them to live. There’s plenty of guys like Hines Ward or Will Demps, there’s plenty of people who are Asian Americans who have kind of guided a person like me, who started to believe that, “Oh, maybe I have an opportunity to play in the NFL.” I think it’s our responsibility to kind of show those kids who think that the they can’t play in a professional sport, I think it’s our responsibility to show that it is very possible. It’s a very possible thing to do in life. I’m getting ready to do a camp next summer, and I’m going to try and focus it more towards the Asian population. One of our goals is to obviously incorporate football, but the one background that I had in my life was judo. It was a very, very important background for me. My father was an eighth degree black belt and an Olympic coach and world team coach here in the United States. It’s one of those things that I want to make sure that the Asian population is included. I mean, that’s where I came from, that’s my background. It’s mostly to show that we can make it to the NFL.