As we mentioned earlier this week, former West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback Skyler Howard has found a new home in Japan and has signed on to play this upcoming season with the X-League’s Obic Seagulls. We’d be completely remiss if we didn’t jump on this opportunity to follow the 10-game winning signal caller on his journeys in Glorious Nippon.
Folks, welcome to
Before I dive into the recap, I need to make sure everyone understands how the X-League works - at least, to the best of my understanding. The league was founded in 1971 as the Japan American Football League, but rebranded itself the X-League in 1997. It’s the top level semi-pro American football league in Japan, and is made up of three tiers (X1, X2 and X3), each consisting of 18 teams split into three divisions (East, Central and West). Teams can be promoted or demoted to the tier above or below them at the end of each season.
The league uses NCAA rules, but the style of play more closely resembles what you see in the NFL. While each team has the option to recruit American players, there is a strict limit of four per team and no more than two foreign players for each team are allowed on the field at the same time. The American players also can’t have played in a regular season NFL or CFL game, but those who participated in an NFL training camp are okay.
There are two types of teams in the X-League; company teams and club teams. The company teams are restricted to employees of the sponsoring companies. Panisonic and Fujitsu are the only remaining company teams in the league, as most teams have become club teams, and only employees of the two companies are eligible to play on the repective team. The club teams are open to anyone to try out, and that is how Skyler Howard managed to find his new home with the Seagulls.
The league plays a regular season schedule consisting of six games per team, beginning in August and concluding in December with the X-League playoffs. The X-League champion then takes on the Japanese college champion for the overall Japanese National Championship in January. The level of play in the league is surprisingly high, and ranks just below the NFL and CFL in that regard. The Japanese National Team is comprised of mostly players from the X-League, and has never lost to any country other than the United States.
In the Spring, the X-League holds two tournaments to allow the teams to ready themselves for the Fall season and to evaluate new players. The teams in Western Japan compete in a tournament called the Green Bowl, and the teams in Eastern Japan - the Obic Seagulls, for example - compete in a larger tournament called the Pearl Bowl. The Pearl Bowl consists of four pods comprised of three teams. The winner of each pod advances to the semifinals, eventually leading to the Pearl Bowl champion.
That finally leads us to what we’re all here for; Skyler Howard’s debut as the quarterback of the Obic Seagulls.
The Seagulls took on the Meiji Yasuda Penta Ocean Pirates earlier today, and Howard had himself a nice little X-League debut. Although he only saw one half of action, it was more than enough for the former Mountaineer signal caller to put up some impressive numbers.
Howard put the Seagulls on the board late in the first quarter with a 1-yard touchdown pass to former Boise State Broncos tight end Holden Huff. Howard, possibly suffering from a little rust, followed that up in the beginning of the second quarter by throwing an interception to Meiji Yasuda’s Akira Ishibashi, a cornerback with 6 years of experience in the X-Leage.
That interception seemed to awaken the Skyler that we saw multiple times at West Virginia, because he immediately followed it up with a touchdown pass to Noriaki Kinoshita, a wide receiver that was signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an International practice squad player in 2008. Howard continued his excellent performance with a three-yard keeper midway through the second quarter for his first rushing touchdown in the X-League.
Skyler got the ball back less than a minute later, after an interception by Hawaii Warriors defensive lineman Kevin Jackson, and connected with Kentaro Mori for his third passing touchdown of the half. The Seagulls took a 35-0 lead into the locker room, as Howard closed out his X-League debut.
The Seagulls went on to beat Meiji Yasuda 59-0.
Our friends over at Inside Sport Japan caught up with Howard after the game to get his thoughts on his X-League debut.
Interview with Skyler Howard new QB of the Obic Seagulls
Interview with Skyler Howard new QB of the Obic Seagulls who put in an outstanding performance in one half of action. オービックシーガルズ XleaguePosted by Inside Sport: Japan on Thursday, May 3, 2018
The Seagulls return to action on May 20th when they take on the league’s top team for each of the last five years - the Fujitsu Frontiers - with a berth in the Pearl Bowl semifinals on the line.