Every year there’s a story about a player who had to choose between footy and another sport – but this year, there’s a story to top all the others. Remember the name, Christian Petracca. The AIS star from the Eastern Ranges was playing alongside probable top five NBA draft pick Dante Exum for the under 17’s Australian basketball team, but made the choice to go down the AFL pathway.

He always knew that he was going to go back to football. His two older brothers used to play and his dad was a coach. He didn’t want to let anyone down and because of that, he found it tough to leave basketball. Petracca just didn’t want to go down that path.

Petracca at this stage, is a firm favourite to be a top ten pick in the AFL draft. His numbers speak for themselves; 41 goals in 17 games with an average of six and a half marks a game. He regularly racks up above 20 touches and many of his marks are contested. Keep in mind that in many of his games, he was playing behind Tom Boyd, Michael Apeness and Dan McStay. It’s also important to keep in mind that he was 186 cm and a whopping 96 kg.

Since then though, Petracca has come a long way. We chatted in the rooms after the Grand Final, and despite being completely enveloped in the moment, he was very clear when he said that he was going to build his tank and play in the midfield in 2014.

Since then he has dropped six kilos and worked on his tank with his running coach. His improvement over the time trials has been impressive.

The AIS sends their players to an AFL club for a week over summer; in Petracca’s case, he learnt the trade off Isaac Smith and Brad Sewell at Hawthorn. They taught an incredible amount regarding off field issues, as well as on field.

If it wasn’t for Petracca, Eastern Ranges wouldn’t have even made it to the Grand Final, let alone win it. But he’s a team man. His favourite part of the lead up to the Grand Final was “the energy around the club”. He was proud to be part of the side that won their first premiership since 2002, when Kade Simpson was at the club.

With Boyd and Morrish medal winner Ben Cavarra gone, Petracca admits to feeling the “pressure” as he is now the main man at the club. It’s not only the media who has placed expectations upon him, but internally at the club. Petracca feels as though he has got something to prove, yet feels at ease though, with the likes of Hugh Skate and Luke Hannon stepping up.

The most exciting addition to the Ranges isn’t a player, but rather a new talent manager. Former Melbourne Coach Mark Neeld has taken over Anthony Parkin’s role. Neeld will aim to develop the 15 and 16-year-old players as well as handle the recruiting.

The Eastern Ranges do have some senior bodies returning to the club, despite losing many of their guns to the AFL and VFL. Mitch Keedle will return as a 19-year-old, as well as Chris Jones and Jack Edwards. Interestingly, Eastern Ranges have recruited Maori ruckman and potential draftee Agape Patolo. The big man has come across from the Stingrays after being snubbed from the Vic Country team last year.

The Eastern squad is looking good for 2014. Petracca named Hannon, James Parsons and Daniel Neilson as the three players to watch out for, but the squad goes far deeper than that. With the explosive and dedicated Petracca leading the way, the Eastern Ranges are sure to be a threat throughout the year.