Talking American Football with Gridiron Quarterback and Entrepreneur - Ron Banda
Ron Banda made history in 2012 when - at only 19 years old - he took to the field as quarterback for the Kolkata Vipers during the inaugural season of the heavily touted Elite Football League of India. Even though that league has taken a long-term hiatus, Banda himself has kept his foot in the game by heading up a new federation on the continent while diving headfirst into the arena of sports apparel that is designed specifically to give players of all sports that intangible athletic advantage over their competition. We recently had the pleasure of speaking to the man about the status of Gridiron in India and his ongoing role in its development in the region.
Ron Banda in action! (Photo courtesy of Ron Banda)
GG: You looked like you had the time of your life playing in front of substantial crowds as quarterback for the Hyderabad Skykings of the Elite Football League of India (EFLI) in 2012. How familiar were you with the game of gridiron before you took the field? What in your life and athletic experience helped prepare you for that moment?
RB: Yes, definitely Richard. I had an amazing time playing in front of a crowd of people who are looking for entertainment. Especially in India where not everyone knows the game. They literally came there to get entertained about a new sport. This really was a driving factor for me because we were the first to play the sport in the country.
Playing as the quarterback for the team really had to take the team on my shoulders, and I did that. We are still undefeated as the Hyderabad Skykings after playing 3 seasons.
I actually started playing gridiron football when I lived in the States. I started my football career playing receiver for Prattville High School in my freshman year. Even though I was not in the starting lineup, the experience I gained training under my coaches really shaped athleticism and mindset for gridiron football. We were running for 3 peat 6A State Championship that year. I also ran track and field for Prattville high for 100m, 200m & 400m events. I also continued playing football in Canada for my junior & Senior year of high school.
When I moved to India for my undergrad I literally came across Gridiron Football accidentally after skipping college to meet my cousins.
I moved to India after giving up playing my favorite sport, but thank god for my giving me an opportunity to play gridiron football again after moving to India. But was sure as hell I was prepared to make a change in the country.
GG: What is your greatest memory from your role as squad leader in that league's inaugural season?
RB: Aw, man - the inaugural season was a mission for our team. I played the first season for the Kolkata Vipers and our team consisted players from Rajasthan, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Sri Lanka. That is 4 different languages, cultures, and mindset's playing together as a team with 5 days of practice together. As a squad leader and captain it was my responsibility to keep everything under control at 19 years old.
However, my fondest memory was when we clutched touchdown on a 50 yard go route with a receiver from Rajasthan for the win. After losing 2 games this was the first clutch moment and I would never forget that. Even though the communication between different languages was not that great, I had a good understanding with my receivers.
GG: What is the status of the EFLI in India? After a strong first season an impressive expansion was announced that nearly tripled the size of the organization. Did a second campaign ever get played?
RB: Currently, the EFLI is working as an independent private organization in India after the first season. The first season was great and showed a lot of opportunities for all the players in the game. However due to private - political issues the second season never took off. I am currently part of the American Football Federation of India (AFFI).
The AFFI is the officially recognized by the government of India, and is tied up with the IFAF (International Federation of American Football) so we are looking to participate on a world level to represent our great country of India.
GG: When EFLI launched there was some initial concern that players from your part of the world might be "undersized" and not be up for the rigors of game over the long haul due to differences in diet. For example, I used to work at a hotel where the New York Giants had their pre-game meals. It was not uncommon to see these athletes cut through multiple stacked plates of carbs and protein including steaks, eggs, chicken, pasta, pancakes and a veritable smorgasbord of culinary options. Was this part of the routine and regimen emphasized and discussed by coaches and nutritionists? Did some players have trouble with this aspect of preparing to take the field?
RB: Yes, American Football was definitely a new game to the country and the physicality of this game was totally different for the Indian players. Yes, there was a huge difference in the size of player and their food intake because we were new to it.
However with India's population of over 1 billion, we have a lot of oversized guys who are suitable for this kind of game. And coming to the diet of our players, our main diet is rice and curry, which is standard in any household in India, but when our guys eat they eat - LOL.
During our first season, I don't remember having a nutritionist for us but there was definitely increased interest with the diet plan at the facilities cafeteria. It's been over 9 years since our players got introduced to the game and through research and guidance we understand what it takes diet and training wise.
GG: In the United States the NFL's Washington franchise just dropped their "Redskins" moniker for its possible offensive connotations. In a country as large as India along with neighboring Pakistan - do you think team names need to be carefully considered as to not stir feelings beyond traditional sports rivalry?
RB: Yes, I'm aware of the name change of the Washington Redskins team. And with the current situation in the States I believe it's the right move.
See we need to understand that what is happening in the states is a domestic issue. But, when you bring up INDIA vs. PAKISTAN it's a different rivalry on its own. You will literally not see any support or gestures that support any part of Pakistan. As per the question. YES!!! Team names need to be considered strongly before being finalized.
GG: Once again in America as the founder and creator of the game of American Football - our athletes have been trained to hold a ball since they've been able to walk and begin playing in full pads as early as six. The sport is both physical and mental and a lot of study goes into memorizing the play books to master both the offensive and defensive sides of the competition. India is relatively new to the discipline. What can be done - and what has been done - to fast track your athletes to master the many nuances of Gridiron?
RB: Yes!! I believe the mental aspect of the game is harder than the physical aspect of gridiron. Because the amount of mental awareness and knowledge is huge. A team - on the offensive or defensive side - need to work as one to make things work. And the game of gridiron literally is a live example that practice makes perfect.
A quick memory when I was in high school learning the game of football. It was hard for me to learn the play book in the beginning. For example, the coach called "Orlando LT" and that means the inside receiver on the right my clear the field so the outside receiver gets open. If he didn't do this job then the whole play would go wrong and regardless of the situation it was the receiver's fault. So regardless of how much I learned the play book - if you don't apply it at the right time - you are not fit enough to play the game.
So yeah, it's important for all the players to understand and implement the play book. It is very new to the players in India, because no other sport is as complicated mentally. So in our first season we kept it very basic and practiced every play hundreds of times to get it right.
GG: Are there any unique qualities that you think the Indian athlete will be able to bring to the game?
RB: The Indian population in general are really, really smart. The type of culture variations in the country are very diverse from each other. But, at the end of the day we represent one country and are very united in nature. I believe that Indians will bring a new flavor of adeptness to the game and - over the years - we will develop a new structure of playing the offensive and defensive sides of football.
GG: Can you tell us about the function of - and your role in - the Telangana Gridiron Football Association?
RB: The association of TGFA (Telangana Gridiron Football) is a state association for gridiron football in the state of Telangana. We are located in the middle of India. As the state association we are looking to provide opportunities to new athletes in our state. We literally are the best team in all of India. We played under the Hyderabad Skykings as an undefeated team for 3 years, which really developed the Hyderabad Skyking brand in our state.
I am the founder & general secretary at TGFA. My goal is to tie up with the state government and bring a sponsorship from NFL to develop a sports infrastructure in Hyderabad for all athletes of any sport to come train. I've also tied up with MNC's to sponsor and build an atmosphere around sports culture. I really have big goals for the development of sport in the state of Telangana.
GG: When not clutching the pigskin you are now the Director of Operations at Clutchthinking - an innovative sports apparel company. Did this come about from your involvement in Gridiron - and why is it important for an athlete to have access to your high-tech Developed Hyperstretch Fabric?
RB: As the Founder and director at Clutchthinking, I founded this company in 2018 on a mission to find the most comfortable cloth and fitting for everyday- all day wear.
As a quarterback of the team, I would very frequently get my T-shirt's torn at practice while our defensive line tried to tackle me or get their hands of me. Literally having my T-shirt's torn on a weekely basis, which really irritated and angered me to the next level. I only used to shop my sports wear in the states and getting it shipped to India was always a costly affair. This eventually got me to think why can't I start my own clothing brand and build a premium material that is light weight, anti odor, 4 way stretch and quick dry so I wouldn't have to worry about getting my T-shirt's ripped off.
Over the next couple years, I did just that. I developed a material called HYPERSTRETCH which is literally how I imagined it to be with all the above mentioned features. I named the brand called Clutchthinking, which means "TO WIN THE CRUTIAL MOMENT THAT COMES BETWEEN WINNING AND LOSING" because that I really believed that people can really achieve whatever they believed in. It's only a matter of developing the thinking ability to do it. Nevertheless, by the beginning of 2021, we will be launching our new line of apparel and featuring our new "BAMBOOSTRETCH" that will hit the market 2021.
I really believe that it's a revolutionary change in apparel industry to try our hyperstretch fabric, just because of the innovative features and the premium feel of the wear. Athletes all over the world can relate to our brand philosophy to win every moment. Because, if they don't - IDK why they are competing.
Our brand motto is to "UNLIMIT YOURSELF" and we do just that.
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