It’s a humid afternoon at Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Center and on the Felix Sanchez Training Field there’s championship football underway. Yeah, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Following the first play of the game (1-yard run by the Santo Domingo Raiders) The Oriental Steelers get set in a 4-4-3 set. The MLB changes the call after the offense sets in the I formation. Vianco Martinez (SS) knows his new assignment. Defense shifts to a 4-3 base leaving Martinez in a 1-on-1 match up with the Tight End. The ball’s snapped, the quarterback drops back staring down his tight end from the get go. Martinez is focused and poised enough to read the QB’s eyes. The TE runs a 7-yard post inside, making the adjustments, number 21 jumps the route and gets a pick. The crowd cheers as Martinez instinctively uses the OLB as his lead blocker. After some blocks,he’s brought down at the 5 yard line after a 30 yard return. The Steelers will go on to score on the next play and eventually win the “Arthur Levy Cup” 26-0.
The Jacksonville Jags signed a four-year deal to play one game a year in Europe. We may now see a globalwide market open up. But if it doesn’t make dollars, It doesn’t make cents (sense), so of course a large profit must be involved for the NFL to give football fans all over the world a chance to see their countries acquire a well funded football franchise. That’s just it though. Are there enough football fans throughout the globe that would show up to these games, purchase tickets, concessions and merchandise? Well, there’s already an international federation that unites 62 countries around the world called the IFAF (International Federation of American Football.) If you’re not familiar please got to www.IFAF.org and check it out. But, I want to take you beyond that, deeper underground to a place where American football is played for honor and pride, not just dead presidents. Where the athletes earn respect playing on fields that resemble Sandlots, full of dirt and rocks which wouldn’t be fit for high school junior varsity squads. Where players pay premiums to join the league and the only reward is having the satisfaction of competing at the highest level against their peers and try to knock each other around for 60 minutes. This is the LDFA (La Liga Dominicana de Football Americano/The Dominican League of American Football.) Vianco Martinez and The Oriental Steelers. This is their story.Vianco Martinez
#21 – SS | 6’1″ | 192 lbs.
Experience: 8 years
LDFA: 2 years
Hometown: Santo Domingo, DR
Vianco, thank you for your time. Well I guess I’ll start by asking at what age were you introduced to American Football?
“I was introduce to football when I was about fourteen. A friend would bring a football to school and we would spend our breaks playing and tossing the ball around. I loved the sport from the beginning. Then I got Madden 2003 and the rest is history.”
At what age did you become involved with the LDFA?
“At fifteen I got a better understanding of the game and the interest of playing kept growing. I researched online for a league or an association that offered a chance to play at least in a more professional environment and not as a bunch of kids on the street. Finally after weeks of searching I saw an interview with Dr. Levy-Tovar announcing he was getting together with different groups to begin a flag football league. Which now has grown from scrimmages and flag football games to what is now The LDFA. It’s only a couple of years old.”
Tell me about yourself and your team?
“I’ve been with two teams. The Dominican Raiders (Santo Domingo Raiders) and The Oriental Steelers. I was with The Raiders from the age of 15 to 19. Then I sat out a year due to a knee injury. That, plus not having enough teams to compete against since we are the only team in the country, I began to lose motivation for the game. Scrimmages against ourselves and a couple outside country teams didn’t excite me at all. I thought about retirement, until I got a call from a fellow ex-team member asking me if I was interested in a new project. He informed me the coach for the new team would be the man who helped me develop as a player. Coach Onyebuchi Ebo. I was immediately filled with enthusiasm and felt ready for this challenge. We formed the Oriental Steelers in 2009. In 2010 we lost in the championship game against the Sharks. A game we would all like forget. Although, that gave us the strength and hunger to continue to work harder than before. We decided we would never feel that way again. Since then we (Steelers) haven’t lost a single game. In 2011 we went 7-0 with four of those games being shut outs. That, along with playing for the Dominican Republic starting Strong Safety is what I’m most proud of. Im proud to be part of the expansion of this this league.”
You say you also play in the National Team of DR, is that a goal for most players in the league?
“It’s only been a couple of years since the first National Team was established (Dominican Raiders) but I’ll go out on a limb and say yes. I mean, isn’t that the goal for all athletes? To represent and wave the color of your country.”
Who is your teams rival?
“The Raiders, without a doubt. They’ve been upset at the fact that most of the Oriental Steelers players, were Raiders before. Also they’re considered trash talkers and dirty players.”
What is your favorite NFL Team? NFL player?
“It’s The San Diego Chargers. Which explains my dislike for the Raiders. The fact that Luis Castillo, a Dominican native, plays for them is a plus and of course I have to show support. It’s also my favorite city in the U.S. My favorite player(s) is LaDanian Tomlinson, when I saw him play I couldn’t get enough Chargers football. The reason I wear the number 21 is attributed to him. Also, since I made the transition to SS, I wanted to adopt a little bit of Sean Taylor’s style. Which is how I identify myself anyways, Hard Hitter.”
What do you think about the offseason moves made by the Chargers?
“I love them. The addition of Robert Meachem and the speedy Eddie Royal in the slot might be enough to get over the loss of Vincent Jackson. I’m also looking forward to seeing LeRon McClain blocking for Mathews and helping him have that breakout year we’ve been waiting for. Melvin Ingram was a real suprise he was available. He was a gift and The Chargers are lucky Melvin was up foe grabs. Brandon Taylor was also a good choice and I’m excited to see what he got. The Chargers are flying under the radar this year. They aren’t even favorites to win the AFC West since Peyton Manning joined the Broncos. That might be a good thing. If Gates and Matthews can stay healthy, and if Ingram/Jarrett Johnson/Phillips can get some kind of pressure on the quarterback, we might have a chance to go deep in the playoffs this year.
What do you want the American public and Rock The Bolt’s readers to know about football in the Dominican Republic?
“The most important thing I would like them to know is that real football is played here in the Dominican Republic. I’m sure that most don’t know that we exist. But we are passionate about this sport. We leave blood, sweat and tears on that field every time. I want them to know there is plenty of talent here. I’m not just speaking for myself but for the rest of the men I go into battle with. I want the American public to know we are more than just a nation of baseball and soccer players.”
[** All answers were translated and approved by Vianco Martinez **]
As you can see, these young men are serious and passionate about football. Part Two will soon follow and will explain more about the LDFA, we will finish up with Vianco Martinez and his Organiza