Whether is a case of being unlucky or a blessing in disguise, mates Dylan Vizzarri and Jake Hammond both went undrafted last year. The former Oakleigh Chargers and Koonung Secondary College graduates have taken their talents to the VFL this year.
Hammond, now 20, was picked up by Port Melbourne and has broken through to the seniors. Vizzarri was one of the several TAC Cup recruits taken by the Box Hill Hawks. Whilst their respective journeys have been similar, the two friends are nothing alike on the footy field.
After winning the TAC Cup premiership last year, it looked as though Vizzarri was an outside chance of getting drafted. A solid year and a polished skill set pushed Vizzarri onto recruiters’ radars, but it was not to be. Going into the year, Vizzarri was confident that the Chargers could win the premiership.
“We knew we had a pretty strong squad… it’s just important in the middle of the year to get a few wins when all the private school guys are gone and the other sides are not as strong.” Those wins eventuated and allowed Oakleigh to finish the regular season as finalists.
Of this year’s talented Oakleigh squad, Vizzarri rated Jack Billings as professional in his approach to recovery. “He was always in the ice bath and in the pool after training… (Jay) Kennedy-Harris brought a lot of enthusiasm to the group and Luke Mcdonald, even though he didn’t play in the Grand Final, he had a good finals series leading up to it.”
One of Box Hill’s other TAC Cup recruits was Matt Northe, a Traralgon boy who played alongside Carlton’s Nick Graham all throughout his junior years. Vizzarri was impressed with Northe’s year so far, highlighting Northe’s senior birth as 23rd man for the Hawks and “snagging a few goals each week which has been really good for him.”
After adjusting well in the development league, Vizzarri was able to string together some games but then succumbed to an ankle injury which has sidelined him momentarily. His motivation to succeed comes from an attitude to turn his weaknesses into strengths. After playing off half back and the wing this year, Vizzarri hopes to win more contested ball to make him a more rounded player, as his elite field kicking has meant his role has traditionally been more on the outside.
The step up from TAC Cup to VFL has been enormous for Vizzarri. “It’s definitely been a step up, not even on game day, but during the week what they expect of you with the extra sessions and the extra things like ice baths has been more demanding than TAC Cup.”
Contrary to Vizzarri, Hammond’s jump to VFL level wasn’t quite so tough. “Oakleigh’s probably a little more in depth with their preparation, as everyone at Port Melbourne has a full time job so it’s a bit hard to keep the squad around, but overall they’re both pretty professional.”
Hammond, a renowned goal kicker, has had an excellent year so far. After stringing together 12 games in the development league, including two bags of five goals early on, he is been rewarded with a senior birth. When discussing the transition to development league football, Hammond said “it’s pretty similar (to TAC Cup), in the development league it’s all young people who have just come out of TAC Cup anyway.”
With Port Melbourne being full of big name VFL players, John Baird and Shane Valenti were the two that gained Hammond’s respect as soon as he arrived at the club. The atmosphere has been enjoyable, so far Hammond, with many of the older heads always making themselves available for a chat to Hammond and the other members of the young parade.
Nostalgically lamenting his 2011 year, Hammond deduced that it may have been his lack of opportunity to show his versatility that ultimately cost him a spot on an AFL list.
“It would have been good to show them how I play down back, which I have done a bit this year.” Although it was an injury interrupted season, he still managed to kick an extraordinary 27 goals from 11 games and get invited to the draft combine, even though he was just below the 190cm mark.
Following the disappointment with missing out on an AFL birth, Hammond was invited back to Oakleigh as a 19 year old. The exception for 19 year olds was a blessing for Hammond, as he elaborated “everyone develops at different times and people might be struck with injuries in previous years, so I think it’s a good opportunity to have another crack at it.”
In 2011, Koonung’s hopes of an AFL draftee were built around two players, Hammond and his friend and current Western Bulldogs defender, Danny Pearce. After playing alongside Pearce at Oakleigh and through school footy, Hammond revealed that it was Pearce’s “self belief” that allowed him to be taken with the Bulldog’s third pick in the national draft.
Although Vizzarri and Hammond mightn’t ever join Fremantle’s Zac Clarke and the Dog’s Pearce, they have certainly done their school proud and both have enough talent to potentially one day make it to the AFL.