Head Coach Hitoshi Aoki (left) watches a recent Boise State practice with players Aro Kondo (middle) and Eiichi Rokukawa. (Scott Graf/OAG)

Head Coach Hitoshi Aoki (left) watches a recent Boise State practice with players Aro Kondo (middle) and Eiichi Rokukawa. (Scott Graf/Only A Game)

By 2007, Bill Parrett had become a regular in Japan.  The Boise State education professor had been visiting the country since the early 1980s to study the country’s schools.  Parrott was also instrumental in setting up an academic exchange between Boise State and Hosei University. During a visit to the school, Parrett said he was surprised when he learned Hosei had a football team.

“Honestly, I wasn’t even aware that Japan knew what football was,” Parrett said. “I had never seen any evidence of football played there in the multiple times I’d been all over Japan doing different things.”

Parrett said the Hosei professor who serves as the football team’s academic advisor sought him out after Hosei coaches learned of the academic exchange.  They had watched Boise State beat Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl – and had sent the academic advisor with a request.

“He flat out, point blank said, ‘We love your Broncos, we’d love to come and study how they do what they do,’” Parrott said.

Boise State head coach Chris Petersen talks with Hosei University head coach Hitohi Aoki, team academic advisor Takashi Yaekura, and wide receiver Eiichi Rokukawa. (Scott Graf/Only A Game)

Boise State head coach Chris Petersen talks with Hosei University representatives. (Scott Graf/Only A Game)

The football staff in Boise agreed, and in 2008, Hosei sent its first delegation to Idaho.

During a Boise State practice held last week, Japanese coaches and several players who also made the trip stood at the edge of the blue field and watched plays and drills. They discussed, and then players took notes.

“The one thing I know about it is these guys are tremendous students of the game,” said Boise State Head Coach Chris Petersen.

Petersen and his assistants are in their sixth year hosting the Japanese coaches.  Besides observing, the Hosei staff also met with Boise State position coaches.  Petersen said the language barrier prevents in-depth conversations, but added that he sees on Hosei’s game film the American influence on Japanese football.

“I don’t know if there’s any difference,” he said. “They’re extremely similar in terms of the rules or what they’re trying to do. You know, you put on Canadian football…you know the fields are different, and the downs are different, the motions are different. This to me looks identical. Now there might be subtleties that I’m missing, but to me, it’s American football over there.”

Style might be the same, but other aspects of Japanese football are different. Players are much smaller, and so are the crowds.  Officials at Hosei say even though their football program dates back to the 1930s – and despite winning five national titles – some games attract as few as 500 fans.

“That’s not the marquis sport,” Petersen said. “ But this is a very good product that those guys put out.  And the teams they play against, I mean, they’re well coached.  These guys know what they’re doing.”

Immediately following last week’s practice, Hosei coaches and players sat around a table in the lobby of their nearby hotel.  They were working on a questionnaire for Boise State’s defensive coaches.  The night before, the Japanese group had worked past midnight.

Hosei coaches have also studied Xs and Os at Baylor and TCU.  But head coach Hitoshi Aoki said the ongoing partnership with Boise State has also helped his staff run more efficient practices and reinforce the off-the-field development he stresses back in Japan.

Notes taken by Hosei wide receiver Eiichi Rokukawa. (Scott Graf/Only A Game)

Notes taken by Hosei wide receiver Eiichi Rokukawa. (Scott Graf/Only A Game)

“We observe that the Broncos are putting emphasis on other things that a person needs to develop himself,” Aoki said. “And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do in Japan. We’re convinced that we’re on the right track. We’re happy to see the same thing happening here with the Broncos.

And there’s one more component to the unusual relationship:  Boise State relaxed its trademark rules on its blue turf, and allowed Hosei – whose school colors are also blue and orange – to install the exact same surface on its field. When it was dedicated last June, a Boise State professor was there and presented Hosei officials with a Boise State flag signed by the Bronco coaching staff.

Professors at both schools are working on expanding their partnership.  A group of Japanese students are due in Boise this fall to study physical fitness and kinesiology. That trip too is likely to have a football component. Organizers are trying to schedule the exchange so the Japanese students can attend a Boise State game.