The longer format of VIVO Pro Kabaddi this season will mean a lot of talented young players who have been on the side-lines so far might finally get to showcase their skills for their franchises. Harish Naik from Bhatkal is one such talent. He was picked by Bengaluru Bulls ahead of the last season for a price of Rs 10 lakh but is yet to make his debut for the side. Captain Rohit Kumar’s belief in his ability, however, remains firm. “I am confident that if Harish gets a chance he will show his worth,” he said while speaking to the Times of India. “He was in the team last year but we were not clear as to how to use his skills. This time with a longer league more new faces will get opportunities,” he added.

But kabaddi wasn’t the 19-year-old’s first love. As a child, he would spend hours playing cricket hoping to make it big as a cricketer someday. All this changed when he joined the newly formed Sarpankatta Sports Club in class 10. He made an impact on his early coaches by showcasing his natural ability in the sport of kabaddi and they pushed him to pursue the sport at a higher level. The ensuing years saw him grow into a fierce raider and represent his state Karnataka before he caught the eye of scouts from the Bengaluru Bulls outfit.

Recalling his early years at the club, Naik says: “I actually used to play kho- kho and kabaddi for the club. I was the tallest player among my peers and I attended selection trials at the Sports Authority of India in Dharwad. I was picked and I continued my education there for the next four years.”

His big break came when he was playing in a tournament in Pune. ”We reached the quarterfinals where we lost to Air India. I had a very good tournament,” says the youngster. He, however, managed to make enough impression on the scouts from Bengaluru Bulls, who were in attendance and soon gave him the coveted opportunity. “I was happy to be selected by the Bulls. I was also a bit nervous as I was young. I had not played with a lot of seniors until then. With time, now I am much more comfortable,” he reveals.

Naik also describes how being part of the league had changed his life for the better. “It was a massive boost for me and my family financially. I cleared a lot of loans with that money. My father is a daily wage labourer and my mother is a home maker. I have one elder sister too who is unmarried. Two uncles live with us. One of them works in the KSRTC while the other works with a private company.” He is hoping that his salary from this season will further help his family.

As someone who is new to the VIVO Pro Kabaddi scene, he is looking to learn a lot from his seniors. He discloses that U Mumba star raider and fellow Karnataka player Shabeer Bappu is someone whose game he admires. “I want to emulate him,” he says about his idol, “I had only heard about him when I started playing but was impressed when I watched him play. I have also learnt a lot from senior players in the Bulls team, mainly by watching them because there is a language barrier. They usually demonstrate how I should make movements on the mat so that’s helpful.”

Naik, who is currently in his third year of graduation, is still taking in his new-found celebrity status and says he is thankful for what kabaddi has given him at such a young age. “I have made a name for myself because of this sport. There is a lot of respect and goodwill among people in my district. I had expected to do well, but I didn’t think things would happen so soon. I hope to be able to show my skills this time around,” he says determinedly.