Ed Wang, first player of full Chinese descent in the NFL, hopes to make the Raiders


BREAKING BARRIERS — Offensive tackle Ed Wang (right, talking to Raiders star running back Darren McFadden) is fighting for a roster spot on the Oakland Raiders. photo by Scott Nakajima / Nakajima Photography
BREAKING BARRIERS — Offensive tackle Ed Wang (right, talking to Raiders star running back Darren McFadden) is fighting for a roster spot on the Oakland Raiders. photo by Scott Nakajima / Nakajima Photography

NAPA, Calif. — When Ed Wang was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2010, he broke ground as the first player of full Chinese descent to play in the National Football League. After a couple of injury-plagued seasons in New York, which limited his playing time as a rookie and wiped out his 2011 season, he found himself signing as a free agent for the Oakland Raiders this past May.

But the 6-foot-5, 310-pound offensive tackle — whose parents both were track and field Olympians for China at the 1984 Los Angeles Games — has some big shoes to fill, as he tries to find playing time in a position long dominated by Oakland Raiders Hall of Famer Art Shell.

With the roster cuts quickly approaching on Aug. 27, Wang finds himself in a difficult position of trying to get healthy from a shoulder injury, in order to fight for a roster spot.

“(He’s a) very good athlete, very smart, intelligent player,” Raiders offensive line coach Frank Pollack told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “I’d like to see more of him. … We are still in the thick of things but his injury’s definitely a setback. He’s working hard in the classroom and I’m sure he’s working hard with the trainers and the other staff to get back on the field.”

Despite the lack of playing time, Pollack remains impressed by Wang.

“He’s got great footwork. He’s very athletic,” Pollack said. “He can adjust on the fly and handle all the different nuances in front. He can adjust on the run. Hopefully he can get himself healthy and come back on the field and continue to show that and improve.”

The Nichi Bei Weekly caught up with Wang at the Raiders’ training facility in on Aug. 19.

Nichi Bei Weekly: You didn’t play in Friday’s game because of a shoulder injury (torn labrum). How is your shoulder?
Ed Wang: It’s alright, I’m just rehabbing it right now, trying to get it better. Just taking it day by day right now. … To be honest I don’t know (about playing Saturday against Detroit) yet. I’ve been talking it over with the coaches and the training staff to figure out where to go.

NBW: You were drafted in the fifth round by the Buffalo Bills in 2010, but missed last season due to a neck injury. How difficult has it been to maintain playing condition, enough to where you can fight for a roster spot this year?
EW: It’s been hard, just because I’ve had a hard time staying healthy. … You can’t fight for a roster spot when you’re not out there practicing.

NBW: The Raiders had been one of the most storied franchises in the NFL. When the Raiders signed you as a free agent in May, what was your reaction?
EW: I felt great. I felt great that they gave me an opportunity … Being part of something special, it’s a great honor. I was very grateful.

NBW: How are you adjusting to the new system here?
EW: I like it. It fits my capabilities pretty well. They have a very good system here and they run it very well.

NBW: With a new coaching staff coming in, what can you tell us about the attitude of the team?
EW: It’s great. They brought us along very well — what they demand, what they expect. And I think we’re all on the same page of what we want to do here. Everybody on the same page, working for the same goal.

NBW: One noticeable change in the first couple of preseason games is in the number of penalties, a long-standing issue with the Raiders. Against Arizona, the Raiders had just four penalties for 27 yards, while Arizona had 10 for 103 yards. Likewise, against Dallas, the Raiders only had five penalties for 37 yards. How have the coaches clamped down on penalties this year?
EW: They emphasize it. They say you don’t want to beat yourselves — the other team is already good enough, so you don’t want to give them any additional help. So basically you just try take care of the little things, and then everything else will just follow suit.

NBW: You played some tight end in college. Has there been any talk of a dual role here for you at all, or perhaps any trick plays?
EW: No. I just got to make the team first and then figure out from there.

NBW: Do you miss tight end?
EW: No, not really. I haven’t played tight end since my freshman year of college, or sophomore year of college. So it’s been six years.

NBW: Where did the nickname “Godzilla” come from?
EW: It came from one of my teammates (at Virginia Tech).

NBW: Anyone still call you that?
EW: No.

NBW: You are the first player in the NFL of full Chinese descent. What does that mean to you?
EW: It means a lot to me, to be the first one. … It’s a dream come true.Initially (there was pressure) just making it, trying to get on the team as a rookie. By accomplishing that, I think that took a lot of weight off. Now it’s just get on the field and play.

NBW: Being a distinct minority in playing football, have you faced much racism on the field or off?
EW: No. I think pretty much at this level, everybody just looks at how you perform. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, young — it doesn’t really matter. Just how you play on the field.

NBW: You come from an athletic family, as your parents competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics for China and your brother plays guard at V-Tech as well. Have they influenced your NFL career?
EW: They have. My younger brother still plays at Tech. Both my parents, they really pushed me when I was younger to play sports, just because they both came from an athletic background. They are the whole reason why I’m doing what I’m doing and how I got involved in sports and everything. It’s all because of them.

NBW: Your predecessor at V-Tech, tackle Eugene Chung, was the first player of full Korean descent in the NFL, and had a decent career after being picked 13th in the 1992 draft – the highest player of Asian descent drafted. Being from the same school, playing the same position and being of Asian descent also, has he been an influence to you at all?
EW: I’ve kept in contact with him, just talk to him about things here and there. He’s with the Eagles (now) so I talked to him a little about the position when I was coming out of the draft. … He’s been apart of my expierience at the pro level.

NBW: You talked to some young football players in Shanghai last year, and American football is said to be growing in popularity in China. As the NFL becomes increasingly global, do you foresee more players from Asia eventually joining the league?
EW: Yes definitely. I think the biggest thing over there is they have the athletes and the people with the ability to compete, but they just need a better understanding of the game and that just comes with time — learning it when they’re young, being better educated and being exposed to the game. I think when that happens, there will be plenty of players that are capable of making a run for the league.

NBW: You are personally working to increase the popularity of American football in China. Can you tell us a little about that?
EW: I went over there two years ago and last year as well just to further expand the game. I did a co-op with the NFL and Under Armour just going out from college to college, you know holding camp, just trying to spread the word of football. There are teams now and they’re starting to play city (vs.) city games, and they’re playing teams from other countries. I think it’s really picked up over there, and I think it’s going to continue to grow.

NBW: The first American-born player of Asian descent to play in the NFL was Wally Yonamine, a Japanese American from Hawai‘i who played running back for the San Francisco 49ers in 1947. There have been relatively few Asian American players in between. Why do you suppose more Asian Americans don’t play the sport?
EW: I think just culturally football is not a big sport for the Asian population … they just really haven’t been exposed to it. But as football grows in popularity, I think more and more people are starting to be attracted to it. I think also initially when I was growing up there was never any Asian players on my teams either, so I think it’s kind of a stereotype too that Asians don’t play football. …

NBW: Did your parents encourage your path?
EW: They definitely encouraged my path. They started me in football when I was 6 years old, and they just kept pushing me to play sports. Never did they doubt me or anything.

NBW: Where do you hope to see yourself on Opening Day?
EW: On the roster.

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