Different ball game: Football defender wins chance to catch eye of NFL scouts

Raju Vasudev Haldankar received just Rs 3.3lakh cash prize, but for him the talent hunt has been about savouring small joys.

Written by Gaurav Bhatt | New Delhi | Updated: February 12, 2017 9:05:42 am

million dollar kick, national football league, indian football, indian football talent, indian kicker for NFL, NFL kicker auditions india, NFL audition winner, million dollar kick winner, football news, sports news Raju Vasudev Haldankar, the winner, has played for Salgaocar.

Goan footballer Raju Vasudev Haldankar kicked the oval-shaped ball to score the field goal twice, from 55 yards out, to win the inaugural Million Dollar Kick — aimed at finding American football kickers — at the Capital’s Siri Fort sports complex on Saturday. However, unlike the ‘Million Dollar Arm’ — the 2008 talent hunt, which saw two javelin throwers from India pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates in Major League Baseball — there were no million dollars at stake in the Million Dollar Kick. The logic behind the similar sounding name is this: A National Football League kicker’s minimum salary is one million dollars.

Raju received just $5,000 (Rs3.3lakh) cash prize, but for the 22-year-old the talent hunt has been about savouring small joys.  “All my life, I wanted to fly,” says Raju. “But I never could. Now, my first flight (Goa to Delhi) will always be remembered as a memorable one. Soon I will be flying to America.”

The talent hunt’s trials were held in Delhi, Goa, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Shillong, Lucknow and Mumbai before returning to the Capital for the finals. Raju, runners-up Dylan Dasilva and Gnanendrasinh Jhala, will now fly to the United States for a two-month training stint followed by trials in front of NFL scouts which could place them in the all-important draft.

Along with the top three, Goa’s Elton Godinho and Lucknow’s Mukesh Singh and Arshad Khan will also be taken for ‘showing promise’ during the one month long competition. Arshad Khan, winner of the Delhi leg, earlier received a $15,000 (Rs10 lakh) for being an “exceptional talent”.

Talking about the competition, Raju said, “Elton was the best. But he just put a lot of pressure on himself today. It was all about just going out there and having fun. I just took it normally, bindaas. The shape of the ball is different, but the style of kicking stays the same.” But while Raju claims to have felt no difference, second runner-up Gnanendrasinh V Jhala admitted that it was tough getting used to the ball.

“It took me 3-4 attempts to realise that more power meant erratic placement”, says the central government employee, who won the Ahmedabad leg with a 63-yard try-out. “It’s about placing the ball.” Raju, the Sesa football academy graduate, played as a defender for Salgaocar before joining his hometown club of Calangute last year. The fact that he had only seen this “new kind of ball” emblazoned on t-shirts didn’t faze him. In fact, he didn’t even turn up for the city trials like most did.

“They came to my hometown where we were conducting a tournament. It was Climax Lawrence who actually told me to just go ahead and kick the ball.”

“I’m so happy he got this chance,” Lawrence told The Indian Express. “These guys wanted people and Raju was there. So we asked him to go try,” adding that he saw Raju “when he was playing for ONGC. He is a good defender and his kicking was impressive.”

While Lawrence admits that he has never tried kicking an American football himself, Lawrence noted that it was no surprise that “all the Goans in final were either defenders or goalkeepers. Only they get to kick the ball that far.”

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