When Shohei Fujita first arrived in Red Deer as an international student three years ago, he was just looking for something, anything to help him fit in.
Originally from Japan, he quickly found football and what started out as an outlet for the teen, who attends Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School, has become much more.
“When I play football, it allows me to forget about my life, homework and all the problems,” he said in a message to the Advocate.
“Also, football was the only way to make friends in high school when I could not speak English and could not talk to my classmates to be friends. I really appreciate football and appreciate all my teammates who made my high school life better.”
Fujita, a defensive back for the Raiders, committed in March to play football for the Acadia Axemen next year, one of the top 10 university football programs in all of Canada. Last season, the Axemen were 8-0 in the Atlantic University Sport Conference regular-season play.
Fujita said after the high school football season ended in the fall, he was in touch with a number of Canadian schools and also a few NCAA Division II programs. He explained that Acadia started to emerge as a top contender after a friend who plays for the Axemen helped him get in touch with the coach, which led to a visit in February.
“(The) Town of Wolfville was beautiful and I liked how close their relationship between coaches and players. After the visit, I thought Acadia will grow me as a person and a player next few years,” he said.
The wiry defensive back, listed at five-foot-11, 165-pounds, is not necessarily a stranger to the gridiron. His father played for the Japanese national football team and that introduced young Shohei to the game. Only he wasn’t allowed to play, just watch. It wasn’t until he came to Canada when his love for the game flourished.
“I grew up enjoying watching football but not playing. There were not many opportunities to play football in Japan and also I did not really like how football can be violent and hurt someone,” he said. “I started playing football in grade 10 when I came to Red Deer and I thought playing football is the best way to be ‘cool kid’ in high school in Canada.”
As a true freshman next year at Acadia, Fujita is motivated by the desire to get into a game as early as possible. He understands that’s a tall order, given the hurdles he has to overcome. Learning a new playbook, bulking up this summer so he can play against players that will be anywhere from two to six years older than him, is a tall task.
“I understand it is a really hard goal to achieve, so I really have to get better as a player and I am excited to compete at a high level,” he said.