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South Asia tackles American football with elite Football League of India

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It is hard to imagine America’s Game being played outside of North America, but a new league in India is gearing up for some football.

The Elite Football League of India (EFLI) is heading into their second season of football after a successful debut season back in 2012. The league has pushed back season two in order to increase the fan base and organize the league more than it was before. The start of the 2014 season will be this summer.

EFLI is made up of eight teams from India, Sri Lanka, and one from Pakistan. The teams are the Pakistan Wolfpak, Pune Marathas, Mumbai Gladiators, Bangalore Warhawks, Kolkata Vipers, Dehli Defenders, Colombo Lions, and the Hyderbad Skykings. The EFLI also announced that an expansion team will be added and named the Chennai Swarm.

India got a better taste of football on Feb. 8, when six teams held an exhibition game at Gachibowli Stadium in Hyderbad. This was the first trio of matches open to the public and attracted 18,000 eager sports fans wanting to see a football game.

“It was 2011 when the EFLI was introduced in India,” said Roshan Lobo, running back for the Warhawks. ”My coach, Thimmaiah Madanda, who was a rugby national star from Bangalore was asked to take over the Bangalore Warhawks as the Head Coach. Madanda was one of my coaches in the Bangalore rugby club, he asked me to give football a tryout and so I did for Bangalore Warhawks. That was the only knowledge about football I had so far.”

(Photos courtesy of Flickr user DHammika Heenpella)

Lobo, a rugby turned football player, ended up not only starting at running back for the Warhawks, but winning the season’s Most Valuable Player award with 454 rushing yards, averaging 7.5 yards per carry for six touchdowns in a six game season.

“I had never planned to be one of the best in the league, but now I want to keep my MVP status,” said Lobo. “It’s hard to train here with not much knowledge about football from all the trainers and with not  [many] good facilities to train in.

EFLI is doing a great job in getting us all the facilities we need. People have taken interest in football and love it. I know this is what will change the future of football in India.”

Football in India is slowly becoming more popular after its birth in 2011, and one thing that is helping the recognition of players is the nicknames they have.

Veera ”Money” Manikanta, who also goes by Mani, is a wide receiver for the new Hyderbad Skykings, who moved from Kandy, India. Manikanta was also a wide receiver for the Vipers his first season until the Skykings moved to Hyderbad, which is now one of the more popular teams in the EFLI.

“One day we went for team lunch and we were discussing about the names on jerseys,” said Manikanta. “My friend, Naveen, came to me and jovially said ‘why can’t you use Money in place of Mani?”

“I liked it so I am using it.”

His No. 18 jersey features “MONEY” on his light blue, white, and black Skyking uniform. Other nicknames in the league like ”Beast,” ”Brady,” and ”Megatron” have helped increase player recognition around the league and among the fans.

The Skykings have definitely helped the league expand its fan base, and Manikanta explained how the birth of the latest EFLI team has really helped showcase football.

“We started campaigns in corporations and colleges,” explained Manikanta. “We went anywhere that had ground, we played matches and explained the rules. We got good responses from them, we will continue doing that and that’s how we are getting popular. On top of that, we won four matches without a defeat,” said Manikanta.

“We want to maintain that record and win the next championship. We can always get better as a team and as individuals, which will help our team reach our goal. Preseason was just a sample, we still have a lot of surprises for other teams as well.”

Summer might be a few months away, but the EFLI’s success during the preseason will only heighten the anticipation for the regular season.

Hoping to score big are the Gladiators in Mumbai, the most populated city in India. Team captain and offensive linemen Preestesh Balyaya, known to be one of the smartest football players in the EFLI, wants more for his team in the second season.

The Gladiators have been one of the many teams to be purchased and officially have an owner. Former Cleveland Browns player Abram Booty and Thrive Sports Group purchased the Gladiators.

The Mumbai Gladiators (Left) line up vs. the Bangalore Warhawks

“We will be training damn hard for this season and now we have an owner with us like our own family,” said Balyaya.

“With the Booty family legacy, we will be the best in the upcoming league. The players on my team tip their hats off to each and every player on the way, they have shown love, support and trust towards me as well as the game.”

What started off as America’s Game has slowly mixed with the beautiful Indian and South Asian culture. Unlike other football leagues that have failed outside of North America, EFLI has adapted the game of football and made it its own.

Instead of players who failed to make the NFL, India is using domestic athletes. They have gotten off the ground with the help of everyone in charge of the EFLI, the new owners, and even alliances made with former quarterback Kurt Warner and actor Mark Wahlberg. The profits in the EFLI seem like they have endless potential in the future, and with people and companies continuing to purchase teams along with the growing fan base, football could become the No. 1 sport in India.

The most important push to glory comes from the players, who work hard and care about this new sport. With the right competitive spirit, and observations of how they can avoid mistakes that America has made as far as concussion awareness, game play, and even the NFL business as a whole, the EFLI can create a successful business in the second most populous country in the world.

Balyaya is one of many players who is aware of and confident in the popularity growth of the EFLI.

“I reside in Mumbai,” said Balyaya. ”People are coming to know about football and I receive a lot of messages and comments on Facebook for our good hard work, good games and some even message me asking to join the team.”

“I believe season two is going to rock, and EFLI will set a bench mark for other sports.”

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South Asia tackles American football with elite Football League of India