Nakamura Hopes to Continue Ballhawking Ways with Panthers

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 06: Haruki Nakamura #43 of the Baltimore Ravens loosens up during training camp at M&T Bank Stadium on August 6, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

It is not a stretch to call newly-acquired Panthers Safety Haruki Nakamura a warrior, seeing as how virtually his entire family holds a martial arts blackbelt and has competed in judo at the international level. After all, he himself was a junior national judo champion.

And, yes, in case you were wondering, his mom (Karen) holds a fourth-degree blackbelt, as well as his brothers Mako and Yoshi and his late father, Ryozo, who was an eigth-degree blackbelt grand champion. His sister was a national champion as well.

The focus, discipline and explosiveness honed in Haruki's martial arts background can be seen in his aggressive, hard-hitting approach to playing football. And, besides, after watching opponents' running backs and wide receivers shake free from Panther tacklers downfield seemingly at will during the 2011 season for 30-, 50- and 70-yard touchdowns; could it hurt that the Panthers added a guy to the defensive backfield who grew up studying the art of taking people off their feet? (More after the jump...)

Along with martial arts, both tragedy and perseverance tempered the Panthers Safety as a young man, molding the warrior who will bring his game to Charlotte in Training Camp. After losing his father to lung cancer at the tender age of five, Nakamura has always shared a special relationship with his blackbelt mother, who raised her three sons as a single parent after being widowed, as well as supporting their diverse and demanding athletic endeavors.

Ryozo Nakamura had immigrated to the United States as an adult from Japan, in order to share his knowledge with the U.S. National Judo Team. It was in the States that he married and began his family.

Growing up under the affectionate guidance of his mother in the suburban Cleveland, Ohio area, Haruki attended an all boys catholic high school where he and his brothers focused on athletics and academics before moving on to the University of Cincinatti wher he was the "quarterback of the defense" and a team captain for the first Bearcat squad to amass 10 wins in a season since the 1950's.

He was also named to the Bearcats Academic Honor Roll on multiple occasions, and earned first-team all-conference honors as a senior. He majored in criminal justice.

Entering the NFL as a sixth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2008 Draft, Nakamura may have compared himself to the hard-hitting Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but instead would become the understudy of the ever-smooth and ball-tracking Ed Reed. He immediately melded into the Ravens scheme, and was the story of training camp that year as he picked off more than 10 passes.

During his time with the Ravens, Nakamura perhaps made an even greater impact on special teams than on defense, as he was considered "an ace" and was near the top of the team in tackles each year.

Also during this time, Nakamura began his own young family, with a lovely wife and young daughter.

I did find one troubling fact about Nakamura - who I have to say has such a touching, all-american story that it's hard not to love the guy - from a college interview, in which he said he was a childhood fan of (gulp!) the Tampa Bay Suck-aneers. That's okay, though, he's now on the Panthers roster and all is forgiven.

So, now, onto more pressing matters. When you make a guy a part of the fam, it helps for him to have a nickname we can use to shorten it up.

I was thinking "Fireball," like the famous mixed-martial artist Takanora Gomi, because of his hard hits, but then I found out he had a cool one in college that's shorter, "Ruke." I think I like "Ruke" better.

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