FLORENCE — Many aspiring football stars learn the game from watching their favorite players on television and trying to imitate their moves. Not Roshan Lobo. He learned with the help of Adam Sandler.
Lobo, a native of India who has only been playing football for a year and a half, first learned about the sport from what he saw in movies, particularly the Sandler vehicles “The Waterboy” and “The Longest Yard”.
“Most people watch movies for enjoyment, but I actually learned a lot of stuff about football through watching movies,” Lobo said Wednesday after practice for tonight’s ProGrass International Scout Bowl. “I also watched a lot of football YouTube videos to learn about the sport.”
Football is barely on anyone’s sporting radar in India, where the main sport is cricket and secondary sport is rugby. Lobo was a rugby player until last year, when a professional football league, called the Elite Football League of India, was formed.
His rugby coach was hired as one of the EFLI’s coaches and asked Lobo if he would give the sport a try.
Lobo began the season as the third-string running back, but when the two players in front of him quit to take government jobs, he was thrust into the starting role. He thrived in that position, and was the league’s most valuable player in its inaugural season.
That got him an invitation to the ProGrass International Scout Bowl, where he hopes to gain more in-depth knowledge about football that he can take back to India and share with the other players in the EFLI.
“It’s a great opportunity to be here in a country where football is everything for people and playing against athletes who have been playing football their whole lives,” Lobo said. “The game is too fast for me here, but I’m going to learn a lot and go back and teach the other players what I know.”
Lobo has become something of a celebrity, with a documentary film crew following him around this week as he prepares to become the first native of India to play in an all-star football game in America.
The Two Youths film company, which also helped film and produce the ESPN documentaries The U and Broke, are working on a documentary about the Indian football league and its attempt to incorporate football into the country’s sports consiousness.
“I read an article about this football league in India, and thought it would make a great story,” documentary filmmaker Evan Rosenfeld said. “Some of the best athletes in India don’t translate into cricket players, so there are all these great athletes with no sport to play. Guys like Roshan are now getting a chance to show their skills.”
While football is a growing sport in India, it’s still a work in progress, Lobo said.
“It’s a new game for all the players, and it’s been very hard for them,” he said. “But everybody has enjoyed learning. We go on YouTube and look up the best running backs and best quarterbacks, so we’re learning.”
The sport is not only confusing for the players, but the fans as well, most of whom have never seen a football game played.
“The people in India are learning, but for now they’re still a little confused of what the rules are,” Lobo said. “They have the basics down like what a touchdown is, but that’s about it.”
Lobo is just one of several foreign players participating in Friday’s game. Players from Canada, South Africa, Belgium, Mexico and The Netherlands are also in Florence to show off their talents for pro scouts.
Defensive end Francis Nouvi, of The Netherlands, has been playing football in Germany, and hopes this week helps him realize his dream of playing collegiate football in the United States.
“I really want to get into a college here and get the proper training,” Nouvi said. “I’m hoping that I stand out to some coaches this week.”
Nouvi began playing football at age 18 after an American friend visited him in The Netherlands and encouraged him to try the sport.
Nouvi originally played in The Netherlands, but was told by coaches that he needed to play against better competition if he wanted to improve enough to reach his goal of playing in America.
So he drove to Germany and basically talked his way on to a German Football League team in Dusseldorf.
“I just walked up to practice with no equipment and told them I wanted to play,” Nouvi said. “When I first started the coach just put me on the kickoff team and told me to run into the wedge and get the guy with the ball. So I went in there and busted the wedge up and tackled the ball carrier just about every time. The other players started calling me the black mamba, because I was so physical.”
But despite his success in the German Football League, Nouvi knows he will never fully reach his potential unless he is able to play in America. That’s why this week is so important to him.
“I’m still learning the game,” Nouvi said. “The terminology is still foreign to me. If I stay in Europe I can be a good player, but if I come here and develop, I feel I can be a top prospect.”