Whether it’s his raking left-foot, deft step, sticky hands or birth certificate, jaws tend to hit the floor when Marcus Bontempelli is wearing the red, white and blue.
Still only in his third season in the AFL, Bontempelli took the league by storm to become one of the premier midfielders in the competition.
But before they took to the field together for the first time, it was Bontempelli’s sheer size that shocked teammate Josh Dunkley when he arrived for training at Whitten Oval at the end of 2015.
“First impressions of him were ‘gee, he’s a massive unit’. He’s a tall midfielder so I felt a bit out of my depth in that regard,” Dunkley told Aflplayers.com.au.
While his on-field performance this season saw Bontempelli rewarded with the 22Under22 captaincy and a maiden All-Australian jacket, his standing as a leader has also grown.
Stepping up as the club’s captain in the absence of Robert Murphy and Easton Wood in Round 11 against the Eagles, Bontempelli became the youngest successful match-day captain in the league’s history at just 20 years and 194 days.
Despite his perceived lack of life experience, the Eltham local is held in high regard as an emerging leader and one that forms a vital link between the demographics at Whitten Oval.
“He’ll ask all the younger boys if they have anything to raise in leadership meetings and that kind of thing. It’s good to have someone who’s young and has that authority to go up and talk to the bigger boys,” Dunkley added.
“He’s a natural leader but he seems to have gone to the next level a bit now. He jels with Bob Murphy, Easton Wood and Matthew Boyd who are all good leaders. He’s a bit of sponge that takes in everything from everyone else and puts it into practice.”
While only one year and 46 days Bontempelli’s junior, Dunkley said he immediately clicked with the rangy midfielder who “was one of the first guys to take me under their wing and look after me when I first came to the club”.
With Bontempelli already tasting captaincy duties on match day, Dunkley believes it’s only a matter of time until we see him in the main role on a full-time basis.
“Lock him in to captain the club one day. Everyone respects him, from the players to the coaching staff and it’s amazing to see someone of such a young age in a leadership role and even skippering the side for a few games this year.”
While it was Easton Wood who tossed the coin in Friday night’s win over Hawthorn, Bontempelli led from the front and was one of the best players on the ground in the upset over three-time premiers Hawthorn.
The 192cm midfielder collected 27 touches, eight clearances and five inside 50s while also kicking two goals – one of which put the Dogs up by 26 points just before three-quarter time.