Nakamura eager to prove himself

Fighting to even get permission to step on a football field was just one of the many obstacles Baltimore Ravens sixth round pick Haruki Nakamura faced on his journey to the NFL. Nakamura, born in Elyria, Ohio, grew up in a strict household that wouldn't even allow him to play football, according to the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram.

Instead, Nakamura's family (of Japanese decent), raised him to perform in judo. However, in the sixth grade, Nakamura's older brother signed him up to play in a youth football league behind his mother's back. Even though he hid the new sport from his mother, she discovered his football pads one day and relented - his football career finally began.

Although football became Nakamura's primary sport, his first sport, judo, helped him in his transition.

"When you train, you have to be focused alone on training – nothing else," Nakamura said in an article written by the Chronicle-Telegram.

"You want to have fun, but you've also got to make sure you're doing quality work. Just because you're out there on the field and running around doesn't mean you're really focused. That's something I really take to heart."

At Lakewood St. Edward High School, Nakamura excelled as both a wide receiver and defensive back and was also adept at special teams. In his senior year, on defense, he averaged 10 tackles per game and also collected five interceptions. Nakamura earned first-team all-county and all-region honors.

Nakamura then enrolled at University of Cincinnati on a football scholarship. During Nakamura's first season, he made his impact on special teams, something he would continue to do throughout his career.

In Nakamura's sophomore year, he became a permanent fixture starting at safety. He compiled 76 tackles and was a co-leader in interceptions with two.

Nakamura continued his success in his third season, but really burst onto the scene as an NFL prospect in his senior year. He was named a team captain and led the team in tackles with 95 and made four picks.

Furthermore, Nakamura helped lead the Bearcats to a 10-3 overall record, including a bowl win and also national ranking during the season. While Nakamura shined on the football field during his college career, he also performed well in the classroom, earning Bearcat Honor Roll in his freshman year and Big East Honor Roll mention in his junior year.

Despite a stellar career at Cincinnati, many pro scouts still doubted Nakamura's ability to play in the NFL, highlighting his small stature at 5'10" and 205 pounds and also his poor timed speed. This did not deter the safety whose goal was to prove everyone wrong at his pro day.

"A shot at a dream, a dream that so many people out there feel is out of my reach because of my size, speed, or whatever else they can come up with," said Nakamura in a diary for Bearcat Insider right before his audition in front of NFL scouts. "That fire inside that has brought me this far is beginning to fuel one more time, just to shut some mouths and open some eyes."

The Ravens granted Nakamura a shot at his dream by selecting him in the sixth round of the draft at pick 206.

"I think at safety we drafted two [third round pick Tom Zbikowski and Nakamura] outstanding, smart, productive, tough safeties with a knack for making big plays," said director of college scouting Eric DeCosta.

"[They are] very similar to our two starting safeties [Ed Reed and Dawan Landry] from the standpoint of instincts, making plays, interceptions, fumble recoveries, special teams impact."

While Nakamura had to battle his parents just to have the opportunity to play football, he will now have to battle NFL players to have a shot at fulfilling his dream of playing in the pros.

And that fire inside will have to continue to fuel him in order to keep his dream alive.

Hank Nathan is a guest columnist for Ravens Insider and a journalism student at Washington & Lee.

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