Late-blooming Western Jets ruck-forward Tristan Xerri is ecstatic after being selected to represent Vic Metro in the AFL under-18 national championships.
Xerri, a product of Caroline Springs in the Western Region Football League, was so far off the radar three years ago that he was not considering a football career, let alone pulling on the Big V.
“A few years ago, I was barely around the Jets or anything – I didn’t see this coming at all,” he said. “All throughout my juniors, I was never really going anywhere with my footy, but then I had a good season and had a call-up late [to the Jets squad].
“I’ve been lucky enough to play a few games with the Jets and had a good season [in the TAC Cup] last year. It means so much to be in the [Vic Metro] team – I’m rapt to be a part of it.”
Growing up in Caroline Springs, Xerri had more envisaged a career in cricket.
But as he started to fill out into his 202-centimetre, 95-kilogram frame, it became clear that football was where his talents lay.
Last season, Xerri announced himself with the Jets in the TAC Cup, before playing a pivotal role for Caroline Springs in its barnstorming run to the WRFL division 2 premiership.
Much of Xerri’s development as a footballer and athlete can be attributed to his time with Lakeview Senior College.
The 18-year-old is part of the college’s elite sports football program, which allows him to combine studies and football.
Scott Korczynski, the program coach and coach of Caroline Springs, has been a major influence for Xerri.
“It’s great, three days of the week being involved in the program,” Xerri said. “You get a weights program, work on your skills and you’re touching the footy every day.
“Since I’ve been doing the program with him, my footy has definitely improved. Scott gave me the opportunity last year to play a couple of senior games for Caroline Springs and we ended up winning the flag in the seniors.
“He’s had a huge impact throughout school and local footy and putting my name out there.”
Xerri’s selection for Vic Metro was all but confirmed when he produced a dazzling display in a trial game against Vic Country.
It was in that game that Xerri truly came to believe he belonged.
“That was huge for me,” he said. “Taking that first grab early in the game and slotting a goal, that probably lifted my confidence.
“I’m a bit of a confidence player – when I get one early, I just play off that.”
Xerri’s great strengths are his contested marking and his versatility.
He wants to develop into a modern day ruck-forward, splitting time between the ruck and key forward roles.
It is a role that former AFL star Brad Ottens, an assistant coach for Vic Metro, played for Geelong and Richmond in his playing days, so Xerri is learning from the best.
“I definitely want to impact the scoreboard, but at the same time doing my work around the ground and in the ruck,” he said.
Xerri, one of four Western Jets in the Vic Metro squad along with Buku Khamis, Cameron Rayner and Lachlan Fogarty, is hoping to earn a starting role for the championship opener against WA at Domain Stadium on Sunday.
“Playing against the best is all you can ask for,” he said. “That will be a great experience.”