Man on move

ON THE RAVENS

Ravens pick with Japanese roots could go far

Haruki Nakamura

May 09, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

During the next three days, a lot of the Ravens' attention will be focused on quarterback Joe Flacco, the team's top draft pick out of Delaware.

But the sleeper of the Ravens' draft is a safety of Japanese heritage out of the University of Cincinnati named Haruki Nakamura.

Nakamura was a sixth-round pick, and general manager Ozzie Newsome and secondary coach Mark Carrier love the guy.

"When I watched him play, he was always moving, always in motion, always getting in the film," Carrier said. "I've always told our guys: `Don't be last getting on the film.' He plays with a sense of urgency. I just love watching the kid play."

The Ravens aren't projecting Nakamura as another Ronnie Lott, Rod Woodson or Ed Reed. But he could be another Bart Scott or Adalius Thomas, players the Ravens discovered in the late rounds or through free agency.

In fact, Newsome said Nakamura could be another Will Demps, who played safety for the Ravens from 2002 through 2004. The Ravens signed Demps as a non-drafted free agent out of San Diego State.

"If they think that, then that's a great compliment," Nakamura said. "When those thoughts are coming from Baltimore, which has one of the best defenses in the league, then it's an honor.

"I'm looking forward to playing there," added Nakamura, who graduated in 3 1/2 years with a major in criminal justice and a minor in communications. "I won't be in awe. I will be excited because I'll be learning from an Ed Reed and a Ray Lewis. This is a great opportunity."

Nakamura seems to make the most of his opportunities. When he came out of St. Edward High and his hometown of Cleveland, none of the big colleges wanted to touch him, except Cincinnati.

Nakamura was a three-year starter and led the Bearcats in tackles with 95 last season. He also had four interceptions and recovered four fumbles.

And now he is an underdog again. He is only 5 feet 10 and weighs 190 pounds. He is unaware of any NFL player that is Japanese.

"I know of some players with Asian ethnicity but none that are Japanese," Nakamura said. "I'm absolutely aware that this might be unique and different, which is why I'm so excited about the opportunity."

Nakamura's father, Ryozo, was an eighth-degree black belt in judo. He was born in Japan and came to the United States to work with the U.S. national judo team. Nakamura's mother, Karen, is a fourth-degree black belt.

Nakamura and his two older brothers, Yoshi and Mako, have been national champions in judo. His father, who died 17 years ago when Nakamura was 5, never wanted his boys to play football.

He wanted them to become U.S. Olympic champions in judo.

"My father had an extensive judo background. He went all over the world, even trained the Egyptian military," Nakamura said. "The only other sport he might have let us play was baseball. He thought football was too dangerous."

In the eighth grade, one of his brothers sneaked Nakamura down to the recreation center and signed him up for football. He has been playing ever since.

Nakamura is a versatile athlete. He can return punts or kicks. In high school, he once was the backup to Ravens quarterback Troy Smith.

"All players have some weaknesses, but he does a lot of little things that make up for them," Carrier said. "He is very good on the run. He might not be as efficient in pass coverage on the back end, but I don't think he is going to hurt you.

"He plays like a Raven. You hear that said a lot around here, but that means something. He is good, physical, plays smart and is aggressive. You like watching him play because he looks like he is having fun."

Nakamura isn't expecting to start, but he is aware of coach John Harbaugh's background with special teams.

He believes that is one of the major reasons the Ravens drafted him. He had pre-draft visits with Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and the Ravens.

This is one more opportunity for the underdog to overachieve.

"It's been that way all my life," Nakamura said. "I think the drive and determination comes from my mother, who was basically a single parent. Regardless of if she was sick or whatever, she went to work every day so I could get an education.

"So if I get hurt, I never give up. I can play with that kind of pain because she always got up for me."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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