Eastern Ranges defender James Blanck has enjoyed one of the more rapid rises into NAB AFL Draft contention of any TAC Cup player in 2018.
The 17-year-old (turning 18 two days before the November 22-23 draft) had played his entire junior football career at Park Orchards (Yarra Junior FL) before earning a spot on Eastern’s list for this season.
195cm Blanck was often used as a midfielder before experiencing a big growth spurt over the last two years and developing into a key backman with agility and speed off the mark.
He averaged 11 disposals and three marks per game in 11 matches for the Ranges in 2018 matched up on one of the opposition’s best taller forwards and also made two appearances for Vic Metro at the AFL U18 Championships.
“I was a late bloomer; I wasn’t anything special in junior footy,” Blanck said at the recent AFL Draft Combine, where he finished fifth in the agility test and seventh in the kicking test.
“I played in a representative side for the YJFL last year and in the 2018 pre-season I was asked to come down to Eastern and it really took off from there. I kept progressing and I kept surprising myself as well. I didn’t really know I had it in me, but I took everything in my stride and now I’m here.
“My first goal was just to get a game (at the Ranges), because I wasn’t too sure I’d be in the team. After that I just kept looking higher and wanting to achieve bigger and better things, and it’s all come at once.”
After enjoying a full pre-season, Blanck quickly learnt about the defensive craft and gained “an insight into how to approach preparation and training” at Eastern.
His work paid off when he was selected for Vic Metro’s third match of the U18 Championships – a clash with Vic Country at the MCG in what could be seen as the pinnacle of under-age football.
“That was just an awesome experience,” Blanck said. “I played on (Dandenong Stingrays tall forward) Bailey Williams and he’s a fairly good mark of the footy. I learned from him about getting to the contest first and getting my hands to the footy first.
“The week before that we had a bye in the TAC Cup and I went back and played on my local ground one last time for the year.
“You have to pinch yourself. I went from a local ground to the MCG in one week. There’s a small grandstand up on the wing (at Park Orchards’ ground) but it’s nothing compared to the MCG.”
THE AFL DRAFT WATCH ‘FAST FIVE’ with James Blanck
Why should an AFL club draft you?
“I believe I have a lot of potential to make an AFL list and possibly thrive in an AFL environment and hopefully play an AFL game.”
What is the funniest or weirdest question you’ve been asked by an AFL club?
“I haven’t had too many weird or funny questions but I have heard stories about a few curly ones.”
Who is your football idol?
“I am a Doggies (Western Bulldogs) supporter so Dale Morris is my footy idol. He is strong nullifying defender, which I see myself as.”
Who will be selected with pick no.1 in the 2018 AFL Draft?
“I think Ben King (Sandringham Dragons). He had a really good (AFL U18 Championships) carnival for Vic Metro and I think he has a lot of potential.”
Which of your 2018 teammates should also be in draft consideration?
“Xavier Fry, who is an explosive back flanker who can also run through the midfield and I think he has a lot of potential.”