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News » Ravens rookie safety uses instinct, hard work

Ravens rookie safety uses instinct, hard work

Ravens rookie safety uses instinct, hard work
WESTMINSTER, Md. (AP) - Haruki Nakamura always studies the quarterbacks' eyes, reading their intentions to anticipate where the football is going.

For the Baltimore Ravens' rookie safety, it's all about instincts, knowledge and hard work adding up to interceptions.

One week into training camp, the sixth-round draft pick from Cincinnati has been so impressive that he has often run with the first-string defense because Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed is sidelined with a shoulder injury.

"Haruki is like a magnet with the ball," secondary coach Chuck Pagano said. "He's very instinctive. You've seen the way he can play the ball, his nickname is: Johnny on the spot."

Nakamura has been the surprise of camp, parlaying his skills into a legitimate bid for a roster spot. He has intercepted about 10 passes since the Ravens arrived at McDaniel College last week.

"It's a game you play with your skills, but you also need to play with your mind," Nakamura said. "Once you get things down, you run around and play football like you're a little kid again. You have to be very precise."

Nakamura draws inspiration from his mother, Karen, a single parent and a fourth-degree black belt, and from the memory of his father, Ryozo. Ryozo Nakamura died of lung cancer 17 years ago when Nakamura was 5.

A native of Japan, he was an eighth-degree black belt in judo who traveled to the United States to work with the U.S. national judo team. Nakamura and his older brothers, Yoshi and Mako, developed into national judo champions.

"My dad was a proud person, and the way he taught judo he wanted us to be the best," Nakamura said. "We've always been a hardworking family."

Yet, football was a sport Ryozo Nakamura never wanted his sons to pursue. He wanted them to concentrate on judo, but Nakamura couldn't resist the urge after his brother covertly signed him up for football in eighth grade.

"My family is so strict and it was all about judo and any other sport was forbidden, especially football because it was so violent," Nakamura said. "My brother thought my personality would be a great fit for it and it certainly was."

Martial arts have given Nakamura a boost in football, increasing his flexibility and ability to deliver a hit.

"As a defensive back, it gives you good hips," he said. "In judo, it's a lot of hip turns and hip explosion. I think it really helps my explosiveness and my quickness."

A Cleveland native, Nakamura graduated in three years with a major in criminal justice and a minor in communications. Lightly recruited out of St. Edward High School, his only big scholarship offer was from Cincinnati. He wound up being a three-year starter with 237 tackles, seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries, making the All-Big East Conference team as senior, when he had a career-high 95 tackles and four interceptions.

The Ravens are hoping Nakamura is another sleeper like Will Demps, Bart Scott or Adalius Thomas.

"I don't know how many interceptions Haruki has got, but the ball finds him," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "It's funny, but the same guys are always getting lucky. He looks kind of like Will Demps, but faster."

Nakamura has always been an underdog, underestimated by recruiters and scouts. At 5-foot-10, 205 pounds, he is smaller than most NFL safeties.

"I was always one of those guys who people said was too small, too slow or wasn't aggressive enough," Nakamura said. "It fuels me inside."

He's also motivated by the pride he takes in his Japanese heritage. There haven't been many Asian players in the NFL.

"It's kind of special, it's unique to be a representative of a group," Nakamura said. "It actually means a lot to me.

As Nakamura strives to make the Ravens' roster, he's intent on following his mother's example of drive and patience. "I get my goal-driven attitude from my mother," Nakamura said. "She's a very dedicated person."


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: August 2, 2008

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