If you’re looking for a player that encapsulates the Western Bulldogs’ values, Koby Stevens is your man.
He’s loyal, unassuming and willing to do the gritty stuff for his football club.
They’re traits that have seen the 23-year-old rewarding the faith the club showed when getting him across from the Eagles at the end of 2012.
The Dogs haven’t started a season this well since their preliminary final year in 2010; surprising given the circumstance that rocked the club during the off-season.
“I was overseas at the time and was getting calls saying, ‘the coach is gone, our captain’s gone’ and you’re just like, ‘whoa, what’s happening?’”, Stevens told aflplayers.com.au this week.
“At the start of the year, even we were nervous about how we’d go” – Koby Stevens
“We came back and had a pretty stern talk between the group. Everything that happened has brought us closer.”
The Bulldogs have exceeded the footy public’s expectations so far this season, winning five of their first nine games. It’s refreshing to hear that even those within the club were usure how 2015 would pain out.
“At the start of the year, even we were nervous about how we’d go,” Stevens admitted.
“But we just keep growing stronger and stronger by the week, and I think that’s the best thing about such a young group.”
New coach Luke Beveridge has been a revelation in his short time at the helm.
“The best thing about Luke is that he’s come in and said from the start, he just wants to have good relationships with the boys. He’s such a calming influence on the group and someone I love going to talk to.
“He has a great view on the game and views things like no other coach I’ve seen. The way he interacts with the boys and subtle changes he’s made around the group… It’s hard to say because it sounds like you’re knocking your last coach, but you do love playing for Luke.”
— AFL (@AFL) May 30, 2015
Under Beveridge, Stevens has taken his game to a new level.
In career-best form, the former Eagle is averaging career-high numbers for disposals (20), clearances (two), tackles (six), and inside 50s (three) across his seven matches.
While the likes of Bontempelli, Stringer and Macrae are the poster boys for the young Dogs, Stevens is happy just playing his role for the club he loves.
“I am settled now and feel comfortable within my role. I’ve taken on a bigger role this year because the previous couple of years we had those older players. This year we’ve needed people to step up.
“I’ve been here for a while and the Bulldog jumper feels right… It feels like home” – Koby Stevens
“I’m in my third year now so I’ve been here for a while and the Bulldog jumper feels right. I’m very excited to run out every week to play for the football club. It’s not so much a massive organisation or business; it’s more like a home.”
But it could’ve been a lot different for Stevens. Growing up in country Victoria where sport is the lifeblood of the community; there was always other options besides footy.
His first love was basketball, and he was skilled enough to compete at the state levels as a junior.
It wasn’t until later in his teens that Stevens gave up on pursuing a career with the round ball.
“I just got a bit over it and injured my back when I was 15 years of age at a state tournament. At that stage I was just over travelling to Melbourne every week for basketball training and was over that lifestyle.”
The decision to pursue footy led to him being drafted by West Coast with pick 23 in the 2009 national draft.
That meant moving across to Perth almost immediately, to settle in quickly before the pre-season began.
“It was pretty tough and emotional. It’s hard for any kid to move away from home, but I’ve got such a close family and younger brothers and sisters. Getting drafted on a Thursday night and moving to the other side of the country on the Sunday was pretty difficult.
“But it was a good learning curve. Obviously I missed my family a lot but being away from then made me grow up a lot quicker than I probably would’ve thought.”
Starved of opportunities with just 11 games across three years in the west, Stevens decided to return home and requested a trade to a Victorian club to reignite his AFL career.
“Leaving was such a tough decision. It was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever made. I loved Perth, loved the people over there and West Coast was amazing, but the pull of home was a bit stronger.
“I was very excited with the prospect of going home and playing for the Western Bulldogs. At the end of the day, family comes first and that’s where I wanted to be. I wanted to be home.”