UCLA OL Gyo Shojima on Being First Japanese-Born Player

Sep. 15 -- UCLA's walk-on center, Gyo Shojima, talked about how he immigrated from Japan to become the first Japanese-born person to American college football...

Gyo Shojima talked during BYU week. 

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On being the first Japanese born player to play in college football history:

I don’t know if there is a true way to figure out if there was a Japanese born player before me, but as I know, I’m the first Japanese born player to play on American soil, in terms of NCAA.

On what it means to him:

I actually never thought about it until people told me about it. My focus was to get on the field and do my job and win as a team. When people told me about it, I was honored, but I never thought about it before.  And it wasn’t that big of a deal.

On how old he was when he moved here:

I was nine years old when I came to America and I went to elementary school, middle school and high school here.

On why they moved to the U.S.:

My family moved here because of my father’s business.  He wanted to start it over here. A consulting business he wanted to start in America.

On when he started playing football:

My first year in high school.

On if he was aware of football when he was in Japan:

It wasn’t until I came here. My father actually played in a Japanese university but it never took my interest until I started in America.

On if he talked with Jerry Neuheisel about playing in Japan:

He told me about him going to Japan but we haven’t actually talked about it in detail yet.

On if he taught Jerry Neuheisel:

He taught himself. His Japanese, from what he spoke to me, in terms of the sentence, he was perfect and I was really surprised by it. He’s a really smart person and he’ll succeed wherever he goes.

On Neuheisel’s accent:

He has a little bit of an accent but it’s expected from a non-Japanese person. If you take that into account, his sentence structure is perfect.

On if he’s attracted interest from international media:

A little bit, but I’m trying not to let it get into my focus from the game.

On if he’s heard from fans:

Some from fans and my friends congratulated me and I said thank you, I’m honored.

On if he plans to play professionally in Japan:

My focus right now is to play at UCLA and get on the field at UCLA and succeed right here. I try not to stray from that focus.

On what interested him in football:

I knew it was a big sport in America, a national sport, so I thought why not start a sport everyone loves. Since my father played at a university in Japan, why wouldn’t I to. So it started an interest for me then. He played defensive line.  His names is Tatsuhiro Shojima.

On if he knew he’d play against UNLV:

My focus was to win as a team but if I was going to go in and seal the win, I was going to be happy about it. I was hoping to get in but that wasn’t my first focus.

On getting to UCLA:

I went to the junior college in Santa Monica so I knew that would get me close to UCLA in terms of academic and football so I tried to succeed in both and I got a call from one of the directors and given a position as preferred walk on. There were some other options, but UCLA was my first option. Since I started in high school, this was my dream school.

On if he had family at the game:

Unfortunately, no. My father was still in Japan on a business trip, but I hope they will come visit me in the game soon. He was happy and honored as well. And my mother and brothers and sister are happy as well but they also know its not the endpoint and hoping for a bigger step.

On when he realized he might be able to play in college:

I didn’t get any offers out of high school so I knew I had to improve in many things so I thought junior college was where I needed to experience the speed and a game at a higher level than high school and that’s where I’d prove myself.

On his sports in Japan:

I was more into swimming and martial arts. I’d never play any sports before football. More martial arts. I’m a black belt in a martial arts in Japan. A self-defense.

On if that translates into football:

Martial arts teaches you the disciplines, how to control yourself and how to be calm in hard situations and it lives on in football. And positional, offensive lineman, is a martial art, competing with the man in front of you.  

On how long it took him to become a black belt:

I trained from first grade in elementary school and it took me about eight years.

On if he trains still:

Not with the football schedule, but I hope to take it again when football is over.

On if the attention is overwhelming:

Not at all. I try to not let it get in my way of football focus. It’s really honoring but not really a noise for me.

On the last time he was in Japan:

I haven’t been back since January of 2015 and I don’t think I’ll see that soil for a while because of the football and academic schedule.

On carrying over martial arts training into football:

The handfighting and the use of hands. Body stability, that all comes from martial arts in terms of my experience. 

On other Japanese-American football players before he’s looked up to:

Actually, I never really looked at myself as nothing more than a football player, I didn’t really care about the race or nationality, I just looked at the great players in the NFL.

On what NFL player he admired:

My hero was Shaun O’Hara from the New York Giants. He was a center and when I started watching football, he was the center and that’s what I played. He was dominant and a great center and the way he showed himself on the field, he became my hero.

On why he picked UCLA:

When I came here and started football in America, I went to high school in Redondo Beach and it was really close to UCLA. Living in LA, we either become a fan of UCLA or the other team, so I became a UCLA fan and that was my dream school.

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