In a place where talent meets opportunity, there stands an 18-year-old footballer, brimming with admirable dedication and big ambitions. Today’s story features Mrigaank Mahadevan, a young student-athlete ready to take over the game! His participation in the CISCE Nationals (U-19), representing Maharashtra, and securing a spot in the U-18 Thane division Youth League, depict only a fraction of his achievements.

But what makes Mrigaank’s story stand out? By the end of this article, I promise that you’ll have a 100% reason to remember his name.

Starting early

Mrigaank’s tryst with football began when his uncle first introduced the sport to him and his siblings by bringing them to a football club. He then persuaded Mrigaank’s parents to enrol him there as well. This later led our champ to dive into the world of 11-a-side football as a player. Mrigaank’s path took a pivotal turn when he stumbled upon trials conducted by the Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools (BBFS) in Mumbai and got selected for the development squad. Back in 2018, a resolute 15-year-old Mrigaank, made the pivotal decision to join BBFS. However, there was a catch: the training ground was a two-hour journey from his home. He fondly remembered his coach at the time, Nikhil K, successfully persuading Mrigaank’s parents about the potential payoff of the long commute.

Fortunately, with the school’s understanding and cooperation, Mrigaank was allowed to arrive at 9:30 AM, slightly after the usual school start time. Every day at 5:30 AM, his father faithfully ensured his early morning drop-off at the BBFS ground, maintaining a strict routine.

Striking a Balance

Within the precincts of BBFS, Mrigaank found more than just a football academy; it was an ecosystem that fostered his big dreams. Tournaments like the Youth League and district-level contests became the proving ground where Mrigaank showcased his scoring prowess, earning accolades and climbing the ranks of the U-19 team. 

“I’m in the top 3 scorers in the U-19 team, and I’ve won “Man of the Match’ award four times now!” Mrigaank proudly recounts.

BBFS not only honed his football skills but also provided a conducive environment for managing his B.Tech. studies alongside his athletic pursuits, highlighting the institution’s commitment to holistic growth. “The environment at BBFS taught me effective time management.” He expresses how the ongoing competition at BBFS and the presence of role models among fellow players serve as driving forces, pushing him to strive harder and give his best. “The fact that it helps me improve and helps me manage my studies with football is my favourite thing about training at BBFS.”

From Debut to Triumph 

Among Mrigaank’s treasured memories is his debut match in the U-19 Youth League. From the sidelines to center stage, he etched his mark with two goals and an assist, crafting a moment of triumph that will stay with him for a long time. His selection for the U-23 BBFS Residential Academy program was the jackpot.

“I came to BBFS for development. And I aimed to play for the Garhwal Heroes Football Club (GHFC), a BBFS owned professional football team playing in the Delhi Senior Division League. Looking at where I am now, I feel so lucky to be a part of the senior team. I’m grateful.”

Inside the Daily Grind

When I asked Mrigaank what a day in his life looked like, he graciously shared insights into his routine. Everyday began early. “I wake up at 6:30 AM, except on practice days when it’s a 5 AM start,” Mrigaank begins, his commitment evident in the structure of his routine. “Breakfast follows at 7:15, after which, I’ve got college from 9 AM to 3 PM. Then, it’s off to training from 4 to 6:30 PM. After a quick refresh, I study from 7 to 8 PM, and dinner marks the end of my day at 8 PM. If there are exams looming, I study from 9 to 10 PM or otherwise, it’s a bit of phone time before turning it in by 10 PM, and I get my rest.”

Now, that’s some serious dedication! Mrigaank’s disciplined approach serves as a testament to his commitment and aspirations. 

Choosing Football

When I asked him what cemented his decision to make football his main priority at such a young age, this is what he had to say: “I enjoyed playing football with the older guys as a kid. And then it started happening for me. I tried and worked hard, and many opportunities opened up. Football has helped me get to know people. It built up my character—mentally and physically.” He also confesses how his family and coaches push him to give his best, and the hard work they put in motivates him to try harder and not give up.

Navigating Challenges

They say that if you do something you love you will never have to work a day in your life. And while a part of that might be true, what often gets overlooked are the challenges that come with doing something you love. In Mrigaank’s case, his biggest challenges involve managing studies during the sports season and dealing with match schedules that clash with college hours. When probed about the kind of challenges athletes face on a larger scale, Mrigaank highlights his concern for fair play and integrity within the sport: “It’s important that we shift out attention to preventing age fraud, so that young players have a fair chance to showcase their skills. We can achieve this by monitoring player histories and conducting tests without any partiality.”

Mentorship and Transformation

Mrigaank’s then coach, Nikhil Khunteta, played a pivotal role in his transformation, nurturing him from an aspiring player to a respected team member hungry for improvement. Recalling his early days at the academy, Mrigaank confesses how he was initially insecure about his body: “When I joined BBFS, I was very thin and short, but Nikhil sir made it clear that it’s not the body type, but the technique used on the pitch and how I help the team that determines my progress in the game,” He fondly describes Nikhil as a great coach and a friend. “He’s very calm, and his mindset is admirable,”

When I reached out to Nikhil to tell me about his experience as Mrigaank’s coach, this is what he had to say: “As a person, Mrigaank is very intrigued by the concept of learning. He’s curious and asks a lot of questions. Push him toward greater learning; he’s constantly looking for ways to improve.” He revealed Mrigaank’s challenges when he first entered the academy. Initially struggling to integrate due to differing approaches, he aimed for fun and banter with teammates, leading to some challenges. However, through flexibility and leadership guidance, Mrigaank transformed into an influential figure, ultimately becoming the vice captain. “Starting from the bottom to go on and become one of the most influential players speaks a lot.”

When I asked him what it is that makes Mrigaank stand out, he proudly highlighted: “One thing is that he is not scared of failure. He understands that these are opportunities to learn and be better. Mrigaank tries different tactics, and his downfalls don’t deter him. He really cares about his dream of becoming a professional football player. He takes care of himself and has immense discipline. He knows his priority and plans everything around it.”

(Oh, to be in Mrigaank’s shoes right now!)

Nikhil follows up with some heartfelt advice for Mrigaank: “In all this hustle and bustle of growing up to be a man, don’t leave behind that childlike curiosity and banter! Keep having fun wherever this journey keeps taking you.”

Certainly, wisdom we could all embrace.

The Impact of Growth

When I asked Nikhil about the ripple effect of Mrigaank’s growth, he noted that it’s inspiring a new wave of ambition among graduating students at BBFS. He mentioned that other kids at the campus, close to completing their BBFS journey after grade 12, now view Mrigaank’s achievements as an inspiring path they aspire to follow.

It’s safe to say that Mrigaank is paving an inspiring path for others to follow in their BBFS journey—and a remarkable one too!

A Bond of Admiration

When I approached Sarthak, Mrigaank’s teammate, to share insights about their bond, he painted a vivid picture of admiration and camaraderie. “He’s a great friend mine definitely but more than that he is a leader,” Sarthak expressed. With admiration, he commended Mrigaank’s impressive skills on the BBFS U-18 team—praising his relentless work rate, technical finesse, and knack for scoring goals that truly unsettled defenders. “Quite simply, he is the defenders worst nightmare!” Sarthak further highlighted Mrigaank’s profound passion for football, emphasizing his unwavering dedication to excellence. “For him, excellence isn’t an act; it’s a habit—one we can all learn from Mrigi,”  Sarthak fondly expresses.

Closing with heartfelt wishes, he expressed, “In the end, I wish nothing but the best for Mrigaank. I hope he achieves everything he has ever dreamt of.” 

Nurturing Excellence: A mother’s perspective

Next, I reached out to Mrigaank’s mother, Kavita. When I asked what prompted her decision to enroll him in the program, this is what she had to say: “When the opportunity arose for the residential program, it appeared to be a comprehensive 360-degree experience with abundant opportunities for personal growth. through regular training, structured meals, and established routines. Nikhil’s involvement also played a significant role in our decision.”

As a mother closely witnessing Mrigaank’s evolution, Kavita shared her insights, noting a notable transformation in his personality, behavior, and overall well-being since he began this professional training journey. “I have seen him evolve from a young amateur kid who liked to play football to a sensible professional player! His game has also evolved a lot, and so has his running speed. The overall skill development is very evident.”

On a personal note, it was heartwarming to understand how involved Mrigaank’s parents have been from the start. The pride that they take in their son’s achievements is only deserving. I asked Kavita if she had any special message for Mrigaank, and this is what she had to say: “You should keep up the good work and stay consistent. You are sincere, and you work hard. Just keep giving your best!”

The unwavering support of Mrigaank’s parents is a testament to the immense influence of nurturing on an individual’s growth.

A Message to Young Dreamers

In parallel to his parents’ insights, Mrigaank shares a poignant message for young dreamers. He stresses on dedication and hard work. “BBFS gives you the opportunity and resources to give your best.” To parents, he echoes the power of making tough decisions for their children’s future, drawing from his transformational journey.

As Mrigaank marches forward, his tale inspires us all, proving that dreams indeed take flight when fueled by passion, hard work, and the perfect pitch.

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