Melbourne fans would notice a change in James Harmes this year.
The hard-at-it Demon is still as tough as they come but he’s been doing it more consistently in 2018.
Following a pre-season where the 22-year-old didn’t miss a session, it’s the second pre-season in a row where he’s done everything — Harmes has dropped a bit of weight — which has seen him slide into a midfield role so far this season.
“Last year, I played around 86-87kg and I’ve dropped to 84kg so I feel I’m covering the ground better,” Harmes told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“It was probably due to becoming a bit more professional with my diet. My skinfolds had always been a bit higher and it’s something the coaches to really get on top of so I’ve become a bit lighter this year.
“I also didn’t miss one training pre-season session, which goes a long way. I’ve done that a couple of years in a row now and Max Gawn and I have a competition going to see who can go the longest without missing a session.
“It’s just for bragging rights. I think he’s got me at the moment but hopefully it stays that way for both of us.”
Professionalism had previously been a work-in-progress for Harmes, who hails from Devon Meadows — 50km south-east of Melbourne.
He’s a happy-go-lucky kid from a semi-country town, which meant the elite system was a shock and Harmes readily admits he didn’t know the professionalism required to be an AFL footballer early days.
But where he lacked in certain areas, his country footy upbringing meant he excelled in others.
“As a kid, I was always really competitive in everything I did and my mates back home would say the same thing,” Harmes added.
“It comes naturally to me. I played senior footy against fully grown men as a 16-year-old and I’ve always loved competing and giving it my all.”
Playing as a teenager in the country leagues requires those to be mentally strong. You have to be able to hold your own to a certain extent because intimidation is part of the game.
Some have it, some don’t, and Harmes had it in droves, even to his own detriment.
“They [opposition] came after me and I lipped off a bit out there. I was pretty confident as a 16-year-old. I remember playing against Sorrento and they were absolutely smashing us and this bloke I was playing on was saying a few things to me.
“I kicked a goal on him and went up and tapped him on the bum and said ‘you’re going well, I’m 16 and just kicked a goal on you’, which he hated.
“I feel like if I went back there now, a lot of blokes would go out of their way to get me. There are a few ex-AFL players in that league and I know they get targeted a bit.”
He still hopes to pull the Panthers jumper on again one day but he’s only beginning to scratch the surface of his talent. The result has been three consecutive weeks collecting more than 20 disposals for Harmes, including a career-best 33 touches in Round 8.
That included 18 contested possessions, a cornerstone of the way Harmes likes to play his footy. Harmes is confident in his abilities and doesn’t mind beating his chest out on the field but that’s how he gets the best out of himself.
“When I’m playing well, I’m really confident in everything I’m doing,” Harmes said.
“If I’m down on confidence, I find I get tackled or moved off the ball too easily but when I’m confident I’ll break tackles. The first couple of weeks this year, I was lacking a bit of confidence and was getting caught with the ball a bit but now I feel like I’m playing well.
“I’m not unstoppable but I feel strong, fit and healthy.”
It seems to be working for Harmes, who was a Melbourne supporter growing up. He’s finding his balance, too, and is studying a certificate four in building and construction.
He lives with cousin in Windsor, it takes him five minutes to get to the club and around an hour to get back to Devon Meadows, where he still ventures regularly.
And although things have changed for Harmes in 2018, the Demons need a rough around the edges kid from the south-east.