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When Yuta Nigawa heard about a cohort of Japanese players heading to the CFL Combine presented by New Era, he saw an opportunity for himself, too.
A former offensive tackle in Japan, Nigawa played for the Fujitsu Frontiers and helped them win their sixth national championship in an eight-year span. In 2021 he injured his right knee, retired as a player and quickly went into coaching. This past year he was an offensive coordinator at J.F. Oberlin University, where receiver Ryo Miyazawa, who was also at the combine in Edmonton, played.
He paid his own way for a ticket to Edmonton and spent the five days of the combine as an assistant offensive line coach, working alongside the likes of Ottawa REDBLACKS’ offensive line coach Paul Charbonneau and Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ o-line coach Marty Costello.
Nigawa spent the week helping to run offensive linemen through drills, steered them through one-on-ones with defensive linemen and for a few stretches, played fill-in QB while the linemen battled it out in front of the personnel of the league’s nine teams.
“It was very enjoyable,” he said at the conclusion of the combine. He held a REDBLACKS t-shirt in one hand while he spoke and had some of the players he worked with stopping by to thank him for his efforts through the week. He’d soon be posing with some of those players for souvenir photos, showing a sense of humour that those that worked closest with him got a feel for over the five-day stretch.
A part of the CFL’s Global initiative is to help coaching development where possible. The league not only looks for top players from around the world, it also wants to grow the game globally. That includes training ground for coaches and officials. With that in mind, the league was happy to welcome Nigawa into the combine.
For Nigawa, getting exposure to lifelong football coaches served as a 24-hour classroom for him and provided a great opportunity for him to network. He was very clear in his reasoning for making the trip.
“Next year I will be a CFL coach,” Nigawa said.
In the short term, he’ll be able to bring back the information he soaked up to his team. He’ll go through another season and will continue to work the connections he made. In the meantime, the CFL will continue to offer support to Global coaches. Last year, the league hosted a Global coaching clinic via Zoom, with CFL positional coaches presenting to and answering questions from coaches from all over the world.
While Global players have been working their way onto CFL rosters for the last four years now, coaches haven’t yet made that leap. Nigawa is determined to change that.
“I got to learn something new and my knowledge is enough to coach here,” he said. “I’ll keep learning more and I want to come back here.”
Just as Japanese players like defensive lineman Hidetora Hanada and running back Daisuke Kato showed well on the field in Edmonton, Nigawa showed that there’s also coaching talent on an international level, looking to take a career step into the CFL.