JAI Merchant intercepted a weak pass from the opponents’ quarterback within 30 yards, dashed past multiple Saipan defenders, before scoring the touchdown that paved the way for the Philippine Punishers’ victory.
Just like that, and the cat-quick Filipino-American defensive back/wide receiver proved that Filipinos can thrive in the physical, rugged sport of American football - regardless of the obvious disadvantage in size.
At 5-foot-3 and 165 pounds, Merchant managed to stand out among a bunch of bigger and heavier players who saw action on Saturday afternoon in an exhibition match between the Punishers and the Saipan Sharks, which the hosts won, 13-6, at the Philsports Field in Pasig City.
Merchant, whose touchdown broke a 6-6 tie in the third quarter, was adjudged the game’s MVP, as expected.
“The ball was thrown a little bit behind the receiver and I got lucky that I was on the right spot, at the right time, and was able to reverse the field. But my team was able to put up some great blocks that opened the lane for me,” Merchant said.
“So yeah, I might get the mark on the newspapers that I scored the touchdown but my team opened the hole so it was a team effort.”
Merchant believes that pint-sized but big-hearted Filipinos like him can definitely play the American sport.
“The sport is for anybody who loves to (play it),” the 35-year-old medical student said. “We have a saying in the States, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. Because in the US, I’m very small, but I’ve played with every ounce of me.”
And now is the right time for Filipinos to embrace the sport and learn it, Merchant said.
“If you play with heart, you can learn the game, especially here; it’s a great opportunity because the talent is not yet so overwhelming that it won’t prevent people from coming in,” he said.