ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The road to the UNM football team has been unlike anyone else for freshman running back Ray Iwai. The Matika-City, Japan native is one of three Japanese Division I football players, and he is already fitting in at Lobo camp.
“I really like it here, and I really appreciate being part of this team because everyone is really good and kind to me for being Japanese and a newcomer. Yeah, I think this is a really good place, and the people are really good guys, so I appreciate that.”
Iwai began playing flag football when he was six and grew into one of the best high school football players in Japan. He was selected as an All-Japan player in 2020 and 2021, rushing for 988 yards and 21 touchdowns in nine games. He also played in the high school national championship three times, where he won it once and was named MVP.
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Iwai’s high school athletic trainer Tsuyoshi Kase attended UNM and is friends with former Lobo Mike Good. Iwai got in touch with Good through Kase, and sent his tape to pass along to UNM coaches. They liked what they saw, and gave Iwai an opportunity to represent the cherry and silver.
“I thought he was a really good athlete. He’s physical, he plays the game the right way, and so I’m excited to have him on our football team. I can’t say enough about him, I mean we have a creed around here, he learned it, already got up in front of the team, and said it in English. I’m getting ready for him to do it in Japanese for our team.”
While Iwai is a decorated football player in Japan, there are still some adjustments that he must make in America. He said that the most notable difference he has seen (aside from the weather) is the size of the players and their knowledge of the game. The learning curve is a steep one for Iwai, as this is the first season that he has ever had to learn a playbook in English.
As a running back in a room full of experienced players, Iwai knows he won’t see the field immediately, however, he is willing to put in the work to make a serious impact one day. He has been participating in position drills and even working on returning punts, however how much playing time he gets this season remains to be seen.
“I’m not a starter now, but I want to be a starter someday. I want to be helpful for this team and now I have to get better each day.”