25-year-old Jitendra Mishra was one of the best defenders in season one of the Elite Football League of India as he helped his side, the Pune Marathas, on their title charge. His efforts did not go unrecognized as he picked up the double of Most Outstanding Defensive Back as well as Defensive Player of the Year awards. A rather shy and down to earth Jitendra spoke to Sportskeeda about his experiences.
What were you into before EFLI happened?
I was into athletics, I was a javelin thrower. I had participated at many state level meets for Maharashtra and even won many medals. I’ve also represented the district as well as bodies such as the Mumbai Athletic Association and Sports Authority of India (SAI).
How did you come to know about EFLI?
In 2011, after a university level meet, I had injured myself. I was sidelined for a few months. At that time, during one of my visits to SAI’s Kandivili centre, I watched the Mumbai team practice.
It caught my interest, and then a friend of mine from Pune also called me and informed me about the trials asking me to come if I was interested. So I went.
What about the game? Since you were new to the game, what difficulties did you face initially?
There were both good and bad experiences in this new game.
The bad experiences were when I used to get hurt and bruised because of the physical aspect of it. The good experiences were because overall the game was fun to play.
And what about the plays and the rules and also the equipment?
Getting used to playing with all the equipment on, especially the shoulder pads was a major challenge. Very often in the beginning I would get neck pain after playing. Then I slowly started adjusting to it.
The rules and regulations also were initially complicated. But we got to understand it better gradually thanks to the American coaches.
How was the overall experience of playing in season one of EFLI?
We spent close to a month in Colombo. The experience was very good. As guests, we were treated very well.
We lost the game against Mumbai in the league, that for us was very disappointing, because we had beaten the strong teams such as Bangalore and Delhi, so we shouldn’t have ideally lost to them.
Who would you say was the toughest team that you faced through season one?
I would have to say Delhi. The ore of their team was made up of rugby players, their coach was a rugby player. Their tackling and everything was like almost perfect and they adapted very easily to playing American football.
When you played the first season and gradually started winning, did you ever think about winning the league overall?
To be frank, when we started playing, we thought we were going to be amongst the worst teams. Our team was a combination of Pune and Chennai and there were lots of Pune players who would know only Hindi or Marathi and similarly lots of Chennai players who knew only Tamil. So communication was a major problem initially.
But as we started playing, all the boys just started playing together so beautifully. They started understanding each other through body language and began to learn each other’s movements and skills. Soon the language problem was a non-issue. There was a lot of unity shown by the team.
So Jitendra, you play Defensive Back. Tell us a little bit about that position and your award for being the best in that position.
My job is to provide support to the Linebacker and take down or dispossess the Quarter Back or Running Back or whoever tries to breach the defense.
For this position, you need to have speed, quick movement and you need to study their moves.
As far as the award is concerned, I was very happy. I had two really good games, I would say, both coming against Delhi, in the opening match and the final. A large portion of the credit, almost 50%, should in fact go to my colleague Vishal Lokhande, who was the linebacker and used to destroy most of the attacks even before they got to me. So yes, the two Delhi games, I thought I played really well, but in the rest of the games, huge contributions from Vishal.
What about your coach Gopi and his role in the team becoming champions?
He was a fantastic coach, a great motivator. He knew how to inspire a player and get the best out of him. If any player was not playing well in practice, he would immediately take him out and play himself. That would send a message to the player to pull up his socks.
Also, he took lot of effort in understanding things from a player’s point of view, so that he could help us out.
What are the areas you are looking at improving for season two? And from a personal standpoint, what expectations do you have?
We need to strengthen in the receiver and quarterback departments.
Personally, I would like to avoid any fumbles or mistakes and cut down on them. Last year in the final, I made a major error which almost proved costly and could have cost us the title. For all you know, Delhi would have come out as inaugural champs.
Luckily, my teammates were there to ensure that the damage was minimal.
What was your best experience?
The best moments for me would be the two games against Delhi, they were my best.
The best experience would be the entire duration in Colombo. Got to see a new country and had good time with other players, from my team as well as other teams. It was the first time I had been away from home for such a long time, so was a good experience.