Ben Ainsworth was just a boy from the La Trobe Valley who had his sights set on playing in the AFL from an early age, and dedicated all his energy to getting there.
His determination has taken him almost 2000 kilometres north of Morwell, to the Gold Coast Suns.
In Round 22, Ainsworth kicked three goals and earned himself a Rising Star nomination and his former coach at the Gippsland Power, Leigh Brown, believes he has more than earned it.
The former Fremantle, North Melbourne and Collingwood player says that he could tell Ainsworth was always destined to be an AFL player.
That faith was evident when he handed him an under 18’s debut at age 16.
“He was ready, and he was super talented,” Brown told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“We try and do that with our elite juniors who have got a high level of talent to give them a taste of what’s to come.”
As a junior he was the complete package, possessing a level of class, a fantastic leap, and the ability to play small or tall as a forward. All of those traits have translated to the AFL.
The Morwell product was not only a standout for the Gippsland Power, but he made an impression on his coach while representing his state.
“When he stepped onto the big stage for Vic Country he just looked at home — hitting targets on Skilled Stadium — I had no doubts about his future.”
The strong forward’s first year in the TAC Cup was more than enough evidence for Brown that he had an AFL player on his hands.
15 goals in 13 games in his bottom-age year earned him a spot in the forward line of the 2015 TAC Cup Team of the Year, alongside Clayton Oliver, Darcy Parish, Jade Gresham, Jacob Weitering and Jacob Hopper.
“After his bottom-age year, I thought he was ready to play AFL footy the next year,” Brown explained.
“But after having to wait another year, he’s performed exactly as we’ve expected he would, he’s stepped in and had an immediate impact for Gold Coast.”
It will come as no surprise that his former mentor, as well as the Gippsland region, have high hopes for their budding star.
“We’re all watching him, everyone down here is keeping a close eye on him. He’s very similar to Jamie Elliott — not a tall player but one that plays well above his height with a strong vertical leap and really good hands, but as he gets more comfortable, I have no doubt he’ll be very good in the midfield, too.”
For the Power, he was more than just a star with the ball, he was a leader.
The 178cm forward was selected as captain by his peers and excelled with the added responsibility.
“He was an amazing leader for the boys down here, despite not being able to play every week, he was at every training and every match, up in the coaches box or on the sidelines which taught him a lot about the game and I think that will help him a lot in his career,” Brown added.
Actions often speak louder than words, and that was Ainsworth’s style.
“He was always first to training, always putting in the extra work, and his preparation was meticulous.”
The passion and determination the Sun’s forward brings is often misconstrued as arrogance, but Brown says those who know him well would disagree.
“The talk about Ben being arrogant or cocky is completely misinterpreting him, the people who know Ben understand that he works hard, and is so diligent in his preparation, because he just wants to be the best that he can and he’s so focused on his footy.”
Now with more than 12 senior games and a Rising Star nomination under his belt, the No. 4 pick will only continue to improve, and has the full backing of his junior coach.
“We saw him kick three goals on the weekend and I think we can get used to seeing that more regularly.”