The AFL draft hype surrounding Jamarra Ugle-Hagan is justified. JUSTINE McCULLAGH-BEASY spoke to the potential number one pick and his past coaches about his meteoric rise.
Most footballers are capable of the extraordinary. Not many can replicate such feats on a regular basis.
Junior coach John Atchison remembers watching one such player emerge at South Warrnambool.
A tall, rangy kid with an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time.
A game-changer. One out of the box.
That player was Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, now 18 and considered by many astute judges to be the best talent in the 2020 AFL draft pool.
"You could just tell he had that talent to be able to do the freakish thing often," Atchison told The Standard this week.
"You see some people do something and go 'oh, wow' but you don't see it again.
"Jamarra was able to do it regularly. At training you might see him do two or three things and it's incredible.
"And then you'd come back the next night and he could do it again.
"His leap and awareness of where the ball would be (was innate).
"Some of the places he'd be running to intercept, you'd think 'Jamarra, why are you going there?' but the footy would find where he'd be."
Atchison first came across Ugle-Hagan when he was a shy 13-year-old.
He'd started his football at Warrnambool and District league club East Warrnambool, where his dad played, before crossing to the Hampden league.
It became evident early on the proud Indigenous talent, who grew up at Framlingham with his parents Aaron and Alice and five siblings, was destined for higher levels.
Scotch College came calling, offering him a scholarship in year nine.
But Ugle-Hagan's home-town ties remained strong.
"When he went to Melbourne, he would still travel back and play with our under 16 team when he was available," Atchison said.
"(Coach) Mat (Battistello) even looked at playing him last season in our senior team but it just didn't work out with his TAC Cup commitments plus his school footy commitments."
He did manage one senior game in the south-west - alongside his father at East Warrnambool.
Atchison said it was "one of the proudest moments for his family".
"I'd never seen Aaron play footy until the day they played together," he recalled.
"Aaron was pouring his heart and soul into everything he did and Jamarra floated around that day and was picking up kicks at will. He was a skinny, scrawny kid getting kicks against men."
Ugle-Hagan, who played in a NAB League premiership for Oakleigh Chargers in 2019, rates the game among his football highlights and suspects it will remain entrenched there regardless whatever AFL accolades fall his way.
"I wanted to get that experience to play with dad because not many people get that opportunity," he told The Standard this week.
"We didn't even get a photo at the end of it because he was at full-back and I was at full-forward, we didn't even get to see each other on the field.
"He has got skill. He always works hard and trains me to be the best I can be. He is always competitive and I reckon that is where I get that drive from.
"It was an unreal experience too because half the East Warrnambool team was my family anyway."
The 2019 match was against Russells Creek which was an added bonus.
Griffen McLeod was one of Ugle-Hagan's opponents that day.
Ugle-Hagan met Griffen's younger brother Logan in year seven at Warrnambool College.
They've been good mates ever since, often teaming up on the basketball court.
"The McLeod family, I always say it's my second family in Warrnambool," Ugle-Hagan said.
"As soon as I started basketball, (their dad) Craig helped me out. I ended up being best mates with his youngest son.
"Now I am close to all the boys (including the oldest, Isaiah), they're practically my brothers."
Craig McLeod watched Ugle-Hagan emerge, both as a person and athlete.
"Logan brought him to our place in year seven but I sort of knew him before that," he said.
"(Warrnambool basketball identity) Bobby Cunningham introduced him to me.
"I was coaching East Warrnambool's school team because Logan was there and Bobby was coaching 'Jamo' (Warrnambool primary) and he brought Jamarra over to me.
"Funnily enough six months later he was in my house."
Both Atchison, whose sons also play basketball, and McLeod were equally impressed with Ugle-Hagan's performances on the hardwood floor.
Atchison reckons he could have "represented Australia if he wanted to" but he played hoops for his and "everyone else's entertainment".
"Basketball was an outlet where he could have a bit of fun and dunk on his mates and dunk on a few of his opposition," he said.
McLeod coached Ugle-Hagan when he suited up for Warrnambool Seahawks' junior representative sides.
"He was very good, even from the start with no coaching," he said.
"His athleticism is well known. I made a joke to him 'you're certainly better on the offensive end than the defensive end'.
"But it was just his will to learn (which stood out). At that age it's hard to have kids hold their attention and actually want to learn. He was a sponge."
Basketball remains an interest for Ugle-Hagan.
So much so he asked to play for McLeod's Country Basketball League side Terang Tornadoes in 2019 during his summer school holidays.
"I got permission to play. I missed that fun and I had never played a game with all three of the (McLeod) brothers," Ugle-Hagan said.
"We are all competitive. We'd have an argument during a game and once we'd get in the car, we'd just laugh about it."
Sport has also helped Ugle-Hagan come out of his shell.
"He'll come across as a very shy and quiet kid," Atchison said.
"Once you see that grin come out, you know there's a fair bit of fun to be had."
McLeod now refers to Ugle-Hagan "as part of the family".
"When he first walked in our door when he was in year seven he was very shy and it was hard to get words out of him," he said
"That has certainly changed. When he comes over he can have a chat, hold the floor and have a joke.
"The best thing about Jamarra is he is so humble. He is not one to big-note himself."
Ugle-Hagan moved to South Warrnambool from East Warrnambool to play a higher standard of junior football.
Ironically it was his basketball mates, who also played footy, who got him to Friendly Societies' Park.
He was part of two junior premierships.
"It is just a big family at South Warrnambool," Ugle-Hagan said.
Eastern Maar Aboriginal Cooperation chair Jason Mifsud said Ugle-Hagan was "an inspiration".
"Jamarra is an Aboriginal boy from Framlingham. He's very strong in his culture, very strong in his identity and he's very proud of where he comes from," he said.
"He comes from a long line of Aboriginal leaders in the Framlingham community - socially, culturally, on the sporting fields and politically."
Ugle-Hagan, who is tied to Western Bulldogs as a Next Generation Academy prospect, is taking the draft hype in his stride.
He now wants to use his profile to be a role model for Indigenous youth, including his younger siblings.
"Being the first male (in my family) to finish year 12 is one tick of the box but now I am finished they are like 'I want to finish like Mara'," he said proudly.
He wants to help "break the barrier".
"And not just for my brothers but all multicultural and indigenous boys and girls," Ugle-Hagan said.
His parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins have all helped pave his path.
"Coming from an Indigenous community, six kids, it's pretty hard to get up on top and we're nearly there at the moment," he said.
"That's why I want to make my dream come true, just to help them and give back for what they've made me become today."