by Kaz Nagatsuka
When Tomoya Machino started playing football at Kyoto University, he was new to the game and wanted to play a position he thought was cool.
Machino, a former high school baseball player, was a lot thinner back then and never envisioned becoming an offensive lineman. Shortly after joining the school’s football team, the Gangsters, he submitted his position requests in the following order: tight end, wide receiver and offensive lineman. Noting that one of his taller teammates played wideout, the 197-cm Machino believed taller players would be chosen for the receiving corps.
“They score touchdowns and stuff like that and look cool, don’t they?” Machino told the Japan Times in a Zoom interview late last month. “I wanted to play that position at the time.”
But now, the 137-kg Machino, who plays for the Fujitsu Frontiers in the X League, feels like he was destined to play on the offensive line. He feels like it’s paid off and opened up global opportunities he would not have otherwise.
Machino’s next challenge will be in the Canadian Football League (CFL). He was one of six Japanese players who had their names called during the league’s inaugural Global Draft, going to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the second round.
The league has put more emphasis on its global strategy since 2019, when commissioner Randy Ambrosie launched the “CFL 2.0” initiative.
Per the league’s new regulations, each team is required to have two non-American players on its roster and add three such players to their practice squads.
Machino has the chance to be one the first Japanese to compete in the CFL, which is considered second only to the NFL among the world’s football leagues.
Machino was initially “reluctant” to play on the offensive line, but is thankful to have stuck with it.
“I don’t think I’d be the kind of player selected by the CFL if I hadn’t been an offensive lineman,” the 24-year-old said.
Machino has had a chance to put his talents on display for international evaluators in the past.
Machino was invited to participate in the NFL International Combine in Cologne, Germany, in 2019. Three days before he was scheduled to leave for Europe, however, he tore a muscle in his left calf while training for the 40-yard dash.
He was hardly in ideal condition when he arrived in Germany and could barely make it through the position drills.
“I felt like I gave 70% of what I had,” said Machino, who also participated in the XFL Showcase in 2019 and College Gridiron Showcase in 2020, which were both held in the U.S. “So I couldn’t do things as well as I would have liked to at all.”
The experience stings to this day. Machino describes it as “one of the top three regrets” of his entire life. He also said, however, he’s applying what he learned from that experience toward his new challenge in the CFL.
“It’s like, doing your best isn’t good enough,” Machino said. “Because, at the end of the day, results are everything at the professional level. So no matter how big of an effort you put in, if you get hurt and can’t do anything on the day you’re supposed to show your skills, your past results don’t matter.
“So I think even though I have regrets about my past experiences, it’s taught me a lot. Everything will come down to whether or not I’ll be able to be at my best when I need to be the most.”
Machino said that with the upcoming training camp for the 2019 Grey Cup champion Blue Bombers in mind.
Machino, a native of Ogaki, Gifu Prefecture, was selected for the CFL Global Combine after participating in a tryout in Japan. The Global Combine was supposed to take place in March 2020, before it and the CFL season were shut down.
The CFL game differs from the NFL and the X League in some ways. There are only three downs in CFL games, as opposed to four in the NFL, and the field in the Canadian game is larger, among many other differences. Machino, though, is eager to adjust as best as he can.
He feels the real battle starts when training camp begins. So far, he feels like he’s earned the right to be at the start line.
“Not only is it important for myself, but it’s also important for Japanese football,” he said. “I feel there are high expectations of me. I feel like I’m one of the representatives of Japan and can’t besmirch the country with a disappointing performance. So I’d like to get to the level where I can come up with positive results, because right now, I have a sense of crisis that I’m not good enough yet.”
The 2021 CFL season was originally slated to begin June 10, but the start has been pushed back due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation. The league is targeting a Aug. 5 start and will play a shortened 14-game campaign.