Despite its immense popularity in the United States, American Football has yet to click with a majority of the Philippine sports community. Its numerous rules and the need for expensive equipment are perhaps some of the reasons the sport has been unable to make waves in the country. Save for a select few who play, watch, or do both, American football has become more of a dinner conversation topic than a regular past time.
Robert Ivan “Oyo” Belgica (IV, BS-AEC) is one of the few and proud American Football players in the Philippines grinding it out on the turf. What started out as an interest in a newfound hobby turned into a stint as an offensive lineman, specifically a guard, with the Bandits, Arenaball Philippines’ (ABP) four-time champions. Though he still plays basketball with his friends, Belgica admits that both sports have their own differences.
“So more on teamwork din siya [American Football] pero more on coordination,” he says. “Mas important yung timing. Mas important na together kayo unlike basketball pwede ka magfreestyle. Sa football pag nagfreestyle ka walang pupuntahan. Kailangan you follow the play, you follow everything else.”
As a guard on the team, Belgica isn’t assigned to orchestrate the offense in the same way that guards in basketball are assigned to. His role on the team is to protect the Quarterback from the defense and make sure that he has enough time to throw a pass or hand the ball over to the running back. From day one, the veterans reminded him that giving his all is important and that the same time, it will keep him on the field because the first thing he learned when he stepped on the field was that only the strong will survive and succeed.
“Kasi first day ng practice ko I got knocked out,” the Applied Economics Major recounts. “You know, after that if there’s something that I learned from them, it’s that, the guy who doesn’t give his 100 percent is the guy who gets hurt literally. If you expect to get hit, you hit him first.”
Belgica admits that though his teammates really pushed him to get better, he had to make some sacrifices last term, especially since last term was his thesis term. It went the other way as well, as he mentioned that he cut a few classes and skipped a few meetings to attend practices. In the end, it was a balancing act he described as “choosing the battles you’re willing to lose” yet he was always looking out for his teammates.
“I’ll sacrifice some of my study time for the team,” he says. “Kasi pag dumating ka dun sa team, let’s say sa game, at hindi mo alam yung ginagawa mo, at may nasaktan, you’re gonna be so guilty. Parang, ‘dahil sa akin yan eh’. I didn’t know the play that’s why he got hurt and ayoko mangyari yon. Ayoko [yan] mangyari sa team.”
In their championship game last January 31, the Bandits fell to the Wolves, and as a rookie, Belgica mostly watched from the sidelines providing the moral support the veterans needed and at the same time taking in as much as he can from the whole experience.
“Yeah may jitters, kasi we’re the four-time defending champions and you know the veterans they were talking to me ‘Hey kid, chill ka lang, relax ka lang.’,” he says when asked about how he felt playing in the finals. “Of course as a rookie, I didn’t get much playing time, kasi nga, I missed a couple of practices pero the moment itself is what gets you there. You know, yung feeling, the fans, the cheering of ‘Bandits!’ hearing people [cheer] ‘Wolves! Let’s go Wolves!’ you know, the moment, it’s about the moment and sobrang iba yung feeling.”
With the season still months away, Belgica plans to work on the individual aspects of the game. Whether it be studying game tape or simply buying in to the system, the fourth-year student understands that through time and effort, he’ll get better.
“It’s more of a learning curve na parang learning process yun eh na parang dun ka dadaan, dadaanan mo yun eh, walang shortcuts to being good at something,” he says. “Yeah, I believe siguro naman maggaganun pa rin ako. Yeah, I’m okay with that pero I’ll be much better in my position. Basta ang sabi ko nalang, whenever I come in, I’ll do damage. Yun yung gusto ko, I’ll [make] an impact. Minimum minutes, minimum time I don’t care. I’ll [make] an impact.”