Chapter 3/Episode 4
Riichiro Inagaki, Yusuke Murata
17 (series run) 19 (final chapter)
Ojo White Knights, Ojo Silver Knights, Jari Productions
(桜庭 春人 Sakuraba Haruto) is a second year student at Ojou Private Senior High School and the wide receiver for the school's football team, Ojo White Knights. He is also a model for an agency called Jari Productions, making him a famous celebrity. The media makes him out to be the ace of their team when in fact the true ace of the team is Seijuro Shin.
When he was young, he used to watch sports all the time and dreamed of becoming a professional athlete.
When he entered Ojou Middle School, he befriended a quiet boy in his class named Seijuro Shin. While walking down the school with Shin he caught the attention of the school's football players due to his height (he was 175 cm at that time) and made him sign up for the team. Shin was asked as well. Initially, Shin was thought of as a hanger-on friend of Sakuraba. However, the coach, Gunpei Shoji, was quick to notice Shin's potential.
Despite Sakuraba's best efforts, it soon became apparent that he can't keep up with the team's severe training program. He eventually developed a habit of skipping practice while Shin continued to improve tremendously, becoming the ace of the team and touted as the greatest linebacker in the history of Japan. Sakuraba felt envious of Shin's success and achievements, and was disappointed with himself for not being able to soar to greater heights.
During his third year in middle school, Miracle Ito, the president of Jari Productions noticed him and decided that he would make a good model. Feeling wanted and pleased to be in the spotlight for once, Sakaruba agreed to work for him. Now, he is constantly misunderstood. Because of his popularity, people mistake him for the genius of the Ojo team, and disregard the true ace, Shin. In fact, his football skills are mediocre at best, especially his catching ability.
Sakuraba always felt pressured to do well and to live up to the assumptions people made about him. An accident in the Ojo vs. Deimon game changed it all, though: Sena, as Eyeshield 21, accidentally tackled Sakuraba while running, injuring him. The reason that Sakuraba was hit, even though he was not playing at that time, was that he ran onto the field to grab a sticker that Miracle Ito told him to wear on his helmet as advertisement.
Yoichi Hiruma, pretending to be Eyeshield 21, announced on national television that he had intentionally tackled Sakuraba with his so-called Killer Tackle during the game against Ojo. But Sakuraba knew it wasn't true since someone like Eyeshield 21 can't possibly consider him a threat. The real Eyeshield 21, Sena Kobayakawa, panics when he hears this and visits Sakuraba at the hospital as the Deimon secretary acting as Eyeshield 21's envoy accompanied by Monta, who is eager to meet him because he is so popular. Before the pair could make their entrance, he is bombarded by his teammates and female fans, causing them to be squished against the door, unable to move because the room suddenly became too crowded.
Otawara informs him that they almost lost their match against Seibu Wild Gunmans because he was hospitalized but they still won anyway. Before they left, Sakuraba asks Shin in private to be honest with him if what Otawara told him was true. Shin bluntly tells him it wouldn't have made a difference whether he was there or not. After everyone has cleared the room, Sena and Monta realized that the sudden atmosphere has made it too awkward for them to come out. Monta comes up with the idea of coming out cheerfully so they can lighten up the mood. But before they could do this, they are once again squished against the door by the arrival of a TV crew. The noise from Sakuraba's numerous visitors infuriates his neighbor in the ward, a boy named Torakichi, who threw things at the TV crew until they left.
Torakichi relates to him the horror stories from the superstitious head nurse Oka since this is a hospital where spirits are wandering such as the door where Sena and Monta are hiding. They noticed a leg behind that door, which is actually Sena's leg, and became frightened to death. Sena and Monta finally came out, handing Sakuraba a basket full of squashed fruits.
Torakichi realizes he is Haruto Sakuraba, the wide receiver of the Ojo White Knights, who became his hero after witnessing his brilliant catch one year ago in their first match against Deimon. Monta is touched to tears because he can completely relate. But Sakuraba informs Torakichi that catch was a mere coincidence much to his disappointment. Monta becomes furious, saying he had no right to say that to somebody who considers him as his hero and calls him a lame receiver. Torakichi becomes upset, stunned that Sakuraba could be so gutless. Sena decides to intervene and opens Eyeshield's letter of apology but instead of reading the original written apology he recites something else he made on the spot, telling Sakuraba that Eyeshield 21 felt lucky he injured him because it weakened Ojo's passing abilities. This is enough to brighten Torakichi's mood again.
Later, Sakuraba shows Torakichi his career statistics and realizes Sakuraba was telling him the truth when he said he was mediocre receiver. But he didn't care. Coincidence or not, that one incredible catch from Sakuraba has moved him and he will still continue to look up at him as his hero. Over the next few days the pair become close friends.
Torakichi's doctor informs the boy that it would take him years for his legs to recover from the accident. Torakichi weeps for his fate. He played touch football for six years at his elementary school but was always a reserve player. He always worked hard and finally became a regular player this year but now it was impossible for him to play. Torakichi becomes a new source of inspiration for Sakuraba and promised him that he would work hard as well until that catch he saw would no longer be a coincidence.
Sakuraba participates in the semi-final match against Shinryūji Naga shortly after his discharge. His quick exhaustion due to his recent recuperation and the massive difference in skill against Shinryuji's ace cornerback Ikkyu Hosokawa, caused all the passes directed to him to be intercepted. Ojo lost 41-3.
Just before the Fall tournament he experiences a nervous breakdown after feeling that despite his best efforts, he was still an average player compared to Shin's natural gifts and concludes that he wasted five years for nothing. Ichiro Takami explodes in anger and punches Sakuraba. He learns Takami's side of the story after he overhears him complimenting Sakuraba on finally becoming a real athlete and how he had waited for six years for a tall partner like Sakuraba to enable him to fight against top class players despite his average abilities as a quarterback. This causes to Sakuraba to feel guilty that he has let down his friend.
Later, Miracle Ito tries to abduct him, mad that Sakuraba abandoned his modelling job for one month and allowed himself to get pushed around by the football team's spartan training, in the process ruining his good looks. While rummaging through Sakuraba's things, he comes upon a soiled wristband given to Sakuraba by Torakichi with the names of his teammates and Torakichi's signed on it as a promise to carry it to the Christmas Bowl. Remembering this promise, he runs away from Ito. He encounters Shin doing his run in spite of the heavy rain. He wonders why Shin always works so hard when he is already strong enough. He asks Shin what could a man like him who was born ordinary could possibly do against a genius who works so hard. He breaks down crying and reminds Shin of the vow he made with him five years ago—that both of them would become the aces of Ojo, a path that only Shin is walking on alone now.
Sakuraba hardens his resolve and promises to become stronger. Takami notes that Sakuraba has been training even harder than Shin. He finally passed the 5-second barrier in the 40-yard dash and raised his benchpress to 75 kilograms. He also resigned from Jari to able to completely focus on his training. His skills as a wide receiver rapidly improved and Sakuraba can now be considered a real asset to the team. He was also complimented by Shoji as the player with "the strongest heart" in Ojo, and by Unsui Kongo as one of the big four in the wide-receiver battle (along with Ikkyu Hosokawa, Taro Raimon, and Jo Tetsuma). Even friend and rival Shin has complimented him as "stronger" than he once was.
Before the opening of the Tokyo Fall Tournament, he cut his hair in a crew-cut style and started growing a goatee to show his renewed vigor in pursuing success, much to the dismay of Miracle Ito, who had depended on Sakuraba's good looks to make money and his female fans who abandoned him on his first match save for a few. Sakuraba felt sorry for his fans because he quit his modelling job without warning but in return he would show them that he has become a real football athlete.
He proves this in their first match against Sankaku Punks, a team that lost to Ojo by one point in the Spring Tournament. He is initially ridiculed and underestimated by the opposing team. However he blows them away with the Everest Pass. They couldn't stop him even when they knew the direction of the pass because the high trajectory of the ball makes it impossible for anyone to touch the ball except for Sakuraba. Ojo won by a landslide and once again their team are considered formidable opponents in the tournament, only now they are no longer a defense-oriented team but also a team with a destructive offense thanks to Sakuraba and Takami's unstoppable Everest Pass.
His fans return during their second match against Sengoku Samurais although there is also a discernible mix of male among them. Miracle Ito accepts Sakuraba's decision to devote himself to his football career, saying that his persona as sportsman actually gave the company more benefit than his persona as an idol, and that he must keep his good performance because of this. However, he still continues to embarrass Sakuraba with his constant promotion of athletic products under Sakuraba's name.
Ojo qualified for the Kantou Regional Tournament after defeating the Bando Spiders and later placed first in the Tokyo Tournament after winning over Seibu Wild Gunmens. During the Tokyo Fall Tournament Awards Ceremony he is named one of the Best Eleven in the offensive line as a wide receiver. He informs Takami that the award accounts for the both of them.
- 40-yard-dash: 5.0 seconds (initially), 4.92 seconds (in Volume 11), 4.86 seconds (in Volume 25)
- Bench-press: 50 kg (initially), 75 kg (in Volume 11)
- Position: Wide Receiver / Cornerback
- Height: 186 cm
- Jersey Number: 18
- 2nd Year student (Grade 11)
- Everest Pass - Sakuraba's height plays to his advantage as a receiver, especially since Ojo's quarterback Ichiro Takami is also tall. He launches the ball at a high angle over the field, in which Sakaurba leaps up to catch it. The pass is at such a great height that the opposing team can do little about it, even if they know where it will land. It's simply too high to intercept. However, this technique has a weakness since Sakuruba still relies on seeing the incoming ball in order to catch it. Blocking his field of vision will stop him from properly receiving the pass. This weakness is evident as he is now unable to intercept passes meant for Monta, since the Deimon receiver can catch balls from behind his head, without even looking. Sakuraba cannot keep his eyes on the ball with Monta charging straight at him without turning around. His own attempt to copy the Devil Backfire is thwarted as Monta displayed his ability to catch a football with one hand.
- Sagittarius: A combination of Sakuraba's Everest Pass and Shin's Trident Tackle, the duo take a formation where Shin blocks any opponents approaching them (such as Sena and Monta) while Sakuraba reaches for Takami's pass. Unlike the Everest pass, Takami throws a short pass to prevent Monta from using the Devil Backfire to intercept. This strategy has its own weakness by dividing Shin's attention away from Sakaruba, causing Takami to change strategies, and making the quarterback vulnerable to sacks.
- Sakuraba has recorded an album titled Sakura Prince despite having a terrible voice but sounds good anyway due to technology.
- Other Sakuraba merchandises are the Sakuraba pen (unusable because of the pointy edge of what was supposed to be his hair), Sakuraba contact lenses that makes the user see Sakuraba everywhere (testings are still undergoing because a subject fainted while using them), Sakuraba cellphone accessory (heavier than the actual cellphone itself) and Sakuraba shoes among others.
- Otawara partnered with him during Ojou's festival quiz bowl because he believed Sakuraba's buzzer catching power combined with his strength would make them win. They lost however and had to play the penalty game by wearing maid outfits.
- Shinryuuji Naga's transvestite, Sanzo, is one of his fans.
- When Sena Kobayakawa was practicing his Devil Hurricane on his hotel room's balcony, he tripped and would have suffered a fatal fall had Sakuraba, a catching expert, not been on the balcony below.
- His name Sakuraba means "garden of cherry blossoms", while Haruto means "man of spring".
- Since Ojou's match against Deimon during the Spring Tournament was considered Sakuraba's debut match, it can be assumed he had only became a starting player during his second year of high school.
- Since he was young, Sakuraba has been a fanatic of sports. As shown in the manga, both he and Raimon Tarou are fans of Honjou Masaru.