Last October, while most of his peers were selecting their university preferences for 2016, Bailey Rice was facing an important career decisions of his own.
Most AFL footballers have no choice as to where they begin their careers.
The bulk of 18-year-olds learn their fate on the night of the National Draft, while a handful of young players eligible for selection under the father-son rule are given the opportunity to follow in their fathers’ footsteps at their respective clubs.
Bailey Rice’s circumstances were a little unusual. Given his father Dean had played 116 games for St Kilda and 118 games for Carlton, the 18-year-old was given the chance to name his preference.
It surprised some to see Rice nominate St Kilda has his club of choice in mid October last year, given the running defender had grown up supporting Carlton – the club where his father Dean won a premiership in 1995.
“Obviously I barracked for Carlton… But I just felt St Kilda was the best fit for my development” – Bailey Rice
“It was pretty tough,” Rice told aflplayers.com.au last week.
“Obviously I barracked for Carlton. When I was younger, I used to say that I always wanted to play for Carlton when I grew up.
“But I just felt St Kilda was the best fit for my development, coming into the AFL. I can’t wait to get started.”
It wasn’t a decision Rice took lightly.
“My family weren’t really involved – they pretty much left it to me. I sat down with Dad and just spoke about the pros and cons of each club, but I was by myself in a room when I made the decision. It was during the draft combine, just in my hotel room.”
From that moment, there’s been no looking back for Rice.
The 18-year-old knows St Kilda well, as the Saints hosted Bailey and his father down at Seaford for a six-week period during the 2015 season.
“It was great to see what the players went through and how the club worked, which made my decision even easier.”
With the decision done and dusted, Rice is excited to sink his teeth into 2016 alongside his close mate and Stingrays teammate Brandon White. The two played TAC football together with Dandenong, and live around the corner from one another in Berwick.
“It’s great having Whitey at the club. We share the driving around, which is convenient.”
Now that he’s settling into life as a Saint, Rice is looking ahead to the role he’s hoping to play in the red, black and white in the years ahead.
“All of last year at the Stingrays I played at half-back. I’ll probably start off in that position and hopefully later on I’ll move into the midfield. That’s the plan.”
You can follow Bailey Rice on Twitter @baileyrice_