July 24, 2007
Eaton's Photo Gallery
Demetrius Eaton has proven all his life he can be a quick learner on the gridiron.
Recently, Eaton showed it was not just football that came natural to him. For a week and a half, the former Northwestern linebacker spent time in Japan with the USA Football National Team learning a new culture and earning a World Cup Championship along the way.
"The thing that I liked about Japan was that I began to think about all the stuff that we've got going on here that we take for granted," Eaton said. "Over there, everything isn't peaches and cream all the time. The people are friendly and hospitable, though. They treat you like superstars."
Eaton was selected as one of 45 former college football players to compete in the World Championship of American Football, which was a six-team round-robin tournament that took place earlier this month in Japan.
Team USA breezed through the first two games of the tournament, defeating South Korea 77-0 in the first game and then beating Germany, 33-7, in game two.
"South Korea played hard. It was a tough team physically and they didn't give up, but our defense was out there the whole game," Eaton said. "Our offense only had the ball four times, so it was a big defensive game and special teams."
The championship game against Japan proved to be a much tougher challenge for the team, but a field goal in the second overtime won the World Cup for Team USA by a score of 23-20.
"After the game, it was one of those feelings that you wanted to cry, but the tears just wouldn't come out," Eaton said.
"Just coming from a season here (at Northwestern) where we fell short of expectations to being part of something where we won a world championship was special. And, anytime you get a chance to play for your country it's a great feeling."
While staying in Tokyo, Team USA did not get a chance to tour the country as much as some would have liked. Practices were held daily as the team had to prepare for three games in five days.
"We didn't really get a chance to explore like going on a tour or anything. There were some nights where you had to sacrifice sleep if you wanted to go out and explore the city or the nightlife because we had practice every morning," Eaton said.
"I was out there on a business trip though. I was out there trying to win. I wasn't leaving there with anything less than gold."
Unfortunately for the linebacker, this business trip kept him in his hotel room for much of the trip watching television. He would have been quite content doing so, but he quickly found out all the stations were only broadcast in Japanese, with the exception of CNN.
"They had SportsCenter over there, but it was in Japanese," lamented Eaton. "I was trying to listen to Stuart Scott, but I couldn't hear it over the voice-over."
In his few ventures outside the city, the Milwaukee native pointed out that much of the architecture and restaurants were similar to what one might see in Chicago or New York. While wandering around the city, Eaton could not resist soaking up what Tokyo's finest American restaurants had to offer, even though every meal would be provided for the team.
"I got a chance to get out and go to T.G.I. Friday's and order those homestyle buffalo wings with the ranch dipping sauce," Eaton said. "Actually, not trying to put anyone down, but those buffalo wings were quite good--it could've been that I had just been eating sushi and squid all that time though."
When Eaton was not sneaking out to American restaurants in Japan, he found out what else the Japanese thought of American eating habits through the team's cafeteria.
"They made breakfast, lunch and dinner for us. The craziest thing about it is that they think all Americans eat is just french fries," Eaton said. "So, for breakfast we had french fries, for lunch french fries and then for dinner, too."
As far as the football went, Eaton also picked up some new knowledge that was quite shocking to him and his teammates. While finding out that Japan has been a home to American football for 70 years, he also found a striking similarity between Japan's offense and one that he had become quite accustomed to seeing in the past four years.
"When we played Japan they ran a spread offense just like Northwestern, so I knew how to stop it," Eaton boasted. "You just have to play downhill all day. There's no difference. They've got the athletes and the coaches to teach it."
Inside knowledge of the game not only brought Eaton success on the field, but also allowed him to achieve one of the goals he had set for himself upon leaving the States--being named team captain.
"I went on the second day of camp to talk to Coach Mackovic and I asked him what I had to do to become team captain because that was something I wanted to do," Eaton said.
"I was captain of the team at Northwestern for the last four weeks of the season and it's just something I thought I could bring to the table to help boost the team morale up."
In addition to leading his team to victory, the captain was given a heroic nickname, which continues to be a joke amongst him and his new-found friends.
"When I went out to Japan, I saw all these people looking at the game programs and when they see your picture they ask for your autograph. I had a fan base out there that was calling me `Captain America,'" Eaton said.
"I was like a superhero out there. The nickname is sticking a little bit, too. My friends are calling me Captain America and everyone out there is also."
"Captain America's" trip abroad was a first for him, but he does not plan on making it his last. While Eaton looks into an opportunity playing in Germany, he is also looking toward his future after football. His future just might not be anywhere near Japan due to what the country's climate had to offer.
"The thing I didn't like was that there is so much going on with the weather. We almost got hit with a typhoon while we were out there that hit Okinawa just south of us," Eaton said. "Winds were recorded up to like 250 miles. When we left there was an earthquake. There's just so much stuff going on with that island."
Even though football might have become his main interest ever since he realized his potential, the ambitious Northwestern graduate is now thinking about a future in comedy or acting. While in Japan, Eaton got a jumpstart in his showbiz career performing in Team USA's version of "American Idol."
"There was a contest that we had between the defense and the offense. The groups got together like the linebackers went against the defensive backs and defensive line and the offense did the same thing," Eaton explained.
"We didn't have a fight song, so there was one song called `Over there,' which the soldiers used to get ready in WWI. At first everyone chanted it regular the same way they did in the original song."
Despite the fact that the song seemed to work well enough to prepare a nation's soldiers for war, Eaton and the rest of the team were not sure if properly fit the mold for the team's personality and promptly decided to give it an update.
"What we did is change it to a Boyz II Men/Silent Night-type song with an old school 1950s type of feel to it," Eaton joked. "I can hold a note or two and I was the only one that wasn't afraid to sing. I was the lead singer and then had some back-up singers singing `shoo-wop' and everything."
Overall, Eaton was thrilled about the experience he had and the friends he made, which he plans to keep in touch with. In fact, the team became so close that they plan on holding a four-year reunion starting next year, and every four years thereafter.
Even though he picked up the lingo, Eaton said he would not be keeping in touch with anyone else but his team that he met from Japan. Although he now he can now converse with anyone he should happen to meet in the future.
The basics came easy to him as he said. "For the first time, my name is Demetrius. Nice to meet you," in Japanese.
He joked that the most important phrases came to him while already in Japan.
"What I used most often to talk to the ladies (in Japanese) was `good evening,' then I'd say something like `are you free?' or `do you have a boyfriend,'" Eaton said. Then they'd say `Yes, I'm free,' and I'd ask if I could take them out."
Always the quick learner.