SPENCER White could hardly have chosen a better destination to begin his AFL career.
The 18-year-old key forward from the Western Jets was snapped up by St Kilda with pick 25 at last month’s national draft.
Not only does White have the rare opportunity to thrive in a full-time professional set-up, he gets to sponge information from elite forwards Nick Riewoldt and Justin Koschitzke in the twilight of their careers.
“It’s going to be unreal,” White told the Weekly. “You give yourself every chance in that system. It’s really exciting.”
White was a nervous observer of the draft night coverage.
The youngster, who has been compared to Hawthorn superstar Lance Franklin because their playing styles are so similar, spoke to the Saints in the lead-up, but was given no cast-iron indication that he would be selected.
To say he breathed a sigh of relief on hearing his name called out on draft night is a massive understatement.
“The two days before the draft you’re just extremely nervous,” White said. “You don’t know where you’re going to go or if you’re going to go.
“It’s so good to get it out of the way.
“I was fairly relieved and excited.”
White is a lifelong friend of Jason Ashby, who played in the TAC Cup with the Oakleigh Chargers.
The promising youngsters shared a passion for football from a young age.
They pushed each other in gruelling preseason training sessions in a bid to be drafted.
“I’ve grown up with him all my life,” White said. “We used to do our preseasons together down at Anglesea on the beach and test each other.
“We went to the combine together.
“I stayed over at his place the night before the draft and we could barely sleep.”
When White’s name was read out, he was still nervous for his mate.
The draft continued, name after name read out, but still no Ashby.
And then, with pick 34, Essendon called him out.
“We’ve been best mates and it’s a dream come true for both of us to get picked,” White said.
White’s biggest supporter is his mum, Debra. She has been his confidant in the months leading up to the draft.
It was an emotional moment for mother and son when the Saints selected him.
“I jumped up, mum [Debra] jumped up and she started crying,” White said.
“We have got a really close relationship, especially in these last few months, when I was getting pretty nervous. She’s always been there for me. She’s great.”
White is the third player out of Western Region Football League club Spotswood to be on AFL list this season, following in the footsteps of GWS Giants co-captain Callan Ward and Richmond half-back Bachar Houli.
The Woodsmen have a long history of kick-starting the careers of VFL/AFL players, going all the way back to Footscray/Western Bulldogs only premiership captain-coach Charlie Sutton and South Melbourne/Sydney Swans 1955 Brownlow Medallist Fred Goldsmith. According to the club website, White is the 162nd player out of Spotswood to reach either AFL or VFL/VFA levels.
“They’re a good club, a really good club,” White said. “I don’t know what separates them from the other teams, but they’re doing something right.”
The Western Jets had an instrumental role in giving White the tools to make a late season dash into draft calculations.
The Williamstown resident turned from draft smoky in the first half of the TAC Cup season to a early second-round must-have the longer the season wore on.
“[Jets region manager] Shane Sexton and [former coach] Steve Kretiuk really pushed me and it’s probably the reason I am here today,” White said.
“I went down to the Jets when I was about 16, played in the development squad and then two years in the TAC Cup.
“That has just been massive for my development.”
The nuts and bolts of why St Kilda decided to take White are clear.
The sharpshooting left footer was a proven goalkicker at TAC Cup level, finishing fourth on the list with 36.12, despite playing in defence for a month of the season.
He has speed off the mark and his X-factor is his high marking ability.
If there was one query over White entering pre-draft testing, it was his endurance running.
It’s an area of his game that he has put time and effort into and will continue to do so at the Saints.
“My power assessments were really good, my sprints and jumps,” White said. “My biggest problem was [endurance] fitness and performing in those tests.
“The clubs already knew that I could jump. It was all about finding out where I was at with those other areas like the beep test and the 3km.
“It’s something that I’ve been working on throughout the year to improve.”
St Kilda list manager Ameet Bains:
“He finished off the year extremely well. We feel that the blend of his height with his pace and athleticism is fantastic and his ability to mark the ball was something that really attracted us”.
Western Jets region manager Shane Sexton:
“We’ve known for a long time that he’s had the talent. He’s an outstanding athlete in various elements like speed, agility and vertical jump. He’s got some special athletic attributes and is going to be a power athlete”.
St Kilda head recruiter Tony Elshaug:
“He’s got really good speed, a good jump, can really mark the footy and he is a really resilient young man with good character. He is very athletic and tested super at the combine in October”.
Former Western Jets coach Steven Kretiuk:
“When you look through the TAC Cup this year and all of the draftable forwards, he’s probably got the most attributes in terms of athletic ability in the whole competition”.