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Friday, August 01, 2014         

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Ex-Warrior Kevin Jackson embraces rebuilding mode

By Dave Reardon

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He was on the eighth floor and the building kept shaking.

Kevin Jackson, 29, had a lot of time to ponder if he was going to get out alive, or if this was going to be "like 9/11."

The former University of Hawaii defensive end is 6 feet 4 and 240 pounds. He still plays football, and still possesses a calm, even serene demeanor except, of course, for the crazed few seconds between snap and whistle. Fear is not a normal part of his makeup. But he admits it was, on March 11, in the Tokyo office where he works.

"I thought there was a good possibility the building would collapse and we would all die," he said. "It was 3 or 4 minutes, but it seemed like a lot longer because it just wouldn't stop. I was sitting down, so I just stayed there holding on to my desk."

"KJ" has been in Japan since 2005, playing for the Obic Seagulls. As a rookie, he became the first foreign-born MVP as the Gulls won the championship of the X League, which is the highest level of American football in Japan.

Obic won the 18-team league title again last season. This time another former UH player, Karl Noa, got the MVP honors. He lined up at the end spot opposite Jackson and delivered two sacks.

"There are so many Hawaii people and UH grads here," Jackson said. "Any kind of event you go to, you run into them."

Those who Jackson knows made it through unscathed. They include Ian Sample and Derek Faavi, who both played for the Warriors. And there's Frank Fernandez, a Saint Louis and Harvard grad who also plays for Obic. (Noa was not in Japan at the time of the earthquake and tsunami).

Some with Hawaii connections aren't football players, such as Jackson's best friend, Peter Sawka.

"He is one lucky guy," Jackson said.

Sawka lives in Sendai, the area hit the hardest.

"He was at the epicenter and near the water. But his house is high on a cliff. ... Everything around him was totally destroyed, but he's OK."

The disaster affected both of Jackson's jobs.

"I deal a lot in trading metal. Titanium, aluminum. We buy from America and Europe and sell to heavy industries here," Jackson said. "Shipping and air freight have been delayed and orders have been canceled. You can't get into certain ports. With electricity in several parts of the country being down, plants can't produce anything and can't keep up with orders."

But there's another side of it. Eventual reconstruction.

"Absolutely. We're getting crazy orders from companies," Jackson said. "Big producers have big plans."

In addition to its regular fall schedule, the X League plays a spring tournament. Jackson said he thinks it will be canceled. Also, the Gulls' practice facility is near the ocean and suffered extensive water damage.

Jackson and other football players are making public appearances to help relief efforts.

"We have some recognition with a certain segment of the population. It's nowhere near soccer or baseball. But football's gained steadily in popularity the past few years, so we're trying to use that to help," he said.

"We've partnered with several other community programs, doing what we can to raise money. We've been going to malls, train stations and setting up booths. Partnering with radio and TV stations."

Kevin Jackson majored in Asian history and studied Japanese language, so maybe living in Tokyo was always his plan.

"Not really, I came here a few times while I was at UH. My church was connected to a church in Yokohama. There was an opportunity to visit. It was kind of a whim, but I was always interested in going abroad."

After UH, Jackson had a tryout with the Green Bay Packers. A couple of years ago he beefed up to 270 pounds and thought of taking another shot at the NFL, but didn't feel right at the weight and stuck with the Gulls.

If Jackson wanted a reason to leave Japan he got it March 11. But he likes his life in Tokyo. He is concerned about more disasters and conflicting information regarding radiation, but he feels safe enough to stay.

He said he doesn't expect to remain in Japan forever, but, "I do believe this is where I belong now."

KJ wants to defend a championship and, more importantly, help rebuild a country.

———

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.






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