Glen Jakovich worked closely with Sam Powell-Pepper in his role as the Assistant Coach/Mentor with the NAB AFL Academy. After being awarded as the Round 1 NAB Rising Star, Jakovich shared his thoughts exclusively to Aflplayers.com.au.
Sam Powell-Pepper is one of my favourite players that I’ve been involved with in the academy program.
Sam was one of those kids that was very easy to coach and very easy to deal with. He was a sponge for information.
In the early years, he went through a few different homes and he was doing it pretty tough. People saw the good in him because he was a respectful kid, and then people started to support and help him.
You could see that he had good values and he wanted to be a good person. That’s why he has fast-tracked his development — he’s a kid in a hurry and he wants to play footy at the highest level.
He just wants to fulfill his dream. His motivation is deep-seated, he has a past which he uses as a springboard and he now has an amazing opportunity in life to make the best out of himself, because he knows what the other side looks like.
My biggest thing is that character is king, and he is at the top of the charts and they’re the ones you want in your footy club.
With the academy program, the kids that come in are so green that you need to tell them when to brush their teeth, when to put their shoes on etc. but Sam was so self-sufficient that he was low maintenance and he had an incredible work rate. He was so respectful and he just gets it.
If there’s one kid from the whole list of 2016 draftees, he’s the one that will be a success in life regardless — whether it’s football or business or anything — because of his upbringing.
He was a very quiet kid when I first met him, but when we went out there and trained, it became quite apparent to me that he was a maniac.
He was aggressive for the contest, he was thirsty and he wanted to just keep training. If there was anything in his path he’d take it out, and I sat back and just said ‘wow’.
If I could describe him I’d say that he was like a wild dog off a chain and all he wanted to do was get the ball.
There was nothing spectacular about him like Judd or Ablett, but it was his preparedness to train and his intensity that really stood out.
He has good balance on his feet, and when I saw him in the JLT Series giving Shaun Burgoyne the fend off, I thought ‘that’s him, that’s the boy’.
He didn’t do that disrespectfully, either — afterwards he would have been embarrassed that he had done that, but he gets caught up in the moment of playing and he’s so aggressive.
I was surprised that he fell all the way to pick 18 — sometimes I have to question the recruiters and what they’re doing. I guess I had the privilege of being involved with him for two years in the academy, so perhaps I’m biased.
We went to New Zealand and America with the academy camps, and sometimes kids go overseas on a high-performance training camp and they can be a deer in the headlights, but all Sam wanted to do was get a ball in his hands. He was very fixed on playing AFL and he’s there now.
This might come as a surprise to some, but initially we weren’t quite sure which position would suit him because of his body size.
We even thought that because he played so tall that we could stick him at centre half forward, then we could put him in the middle and even shift him to centre half back.
We were in trouble in one game so we threw him down back and he plugged the hole for us and steadied the ship with his ability to get the ball and distribute.
After his performance and subsequent Rising Star nomination, Sam certainly wouldn’t have let the hype get to him. He’s really not that type of person. He’ll get used to the attention and being on the front and back of the paper, but that’s not him.
He would have felt proud for himself, and rightfully so. However, he would have kept those feelings to himself because he’s come from a long way back. Knowing the kid deep down, he would have enjoyed it for an hour and then he would have thought about next weekend and getting back down to earth.
I was so happy to be able to sit down and watch him fulfil his dream. When I saw him kick that goal from long range I got up and clapped in my lounge room.
To watch him against Sydney made me feel really good, I felt it was a great win for society.