22-year-old Akshay Jadhav, who will again be seen in Puneri Paltan colours in VIVO Pro Kabaddi Season 5, is a familiar face whom the locals are proud to call as one of their own. Jadhav’s journey from the small village of Anaje in Radhanagari Taluka to the atrium of the VIVO Pro Kabaddi stage is indeed one to be savoured. It was in Anaje, a small village 40km from Kolhapur, where Jadhav began his tryst with kabaddi. While representing Anaje at a local tournament against the famed Satej Kabaddi Sangh from Baner, he caught the eye of Appasaheb Dalvi, the opposition coach who invited him to play for his team in Pune.

In 2014, his real journey began after moving to Pune as he left his family behind and took up the sport professionally. He reveals this to the Pune edition of the Times of India. "I did not take kabaddi seriously till after my 12th standard. When I came to Pune, I got the opportunity to play state level and national level tournaments," Jadhav says.

The lad, who plays for the Income Tax Pune team, was spotted by Puneri Paltan’s then coach Ashok Shinde during a state level tournament at Ratnagiri. Shinde gave him a call which eventually led to the signing of Jadhav’s first professional contract last year ahead of Season 4. "I didn't know I would be signing for a Pro Kabaddi team when Ashok sir called me", says Jadhav, still finding it difficult to believe his good fortunes.

When he joined the Paltan squad, Jadhav was the youngest player in the pack, and he reminisces how irrespective of that fact the teammates ensured that he did not feel left out. "When I signed for Puneri Paltan last season, I was the only player from Maharashtra in the team. But all the others treated me like their little brother and took good care of me and it is still the same," Jadhav says.

It’s indeed an inspiring story that says don’t give up as dreams do come true. Under captain Deepak Hooda and Arjuna awardee coach BC Ramesh, Jadhav looks to go from strength to strength, and who knows the upcoming edition might prove to be his show.

Puneri Paltan start their campaign against their Maharashtra rivals U Mumba at Hyderabad’s Gachibowli Indoor Stadium in what will be the second game of the opening day on Friday.