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A taste of the big time

Luke Mason  January 17, 2013 1:18 PM

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NSW Scholarship prospect Elijah Edwards dishes off a handball during Wednesday's training session.

My strengths are at ground level and with my speed. My attack on the ball is developing well and so is my tackling. I like to tackle and put the pressure on players.
The NSW Scholarship program, created in 2005 with the intention of developing and promoting football in the region, ceased at the end of 2010.

But its legacy may continue for some time should 17-year-old Elijah Edwards have any say.

The indigenous youngster was tied to Collingwood as a part of the scholarship program at the start of 2010 when he was only 14-years-old and is eligible to be put onto Collingwood’s senior or rookie lists at the end of the year should the club choose to do so.

Edwards is currently spending his school holidays training with the senior team at the Westpac Centre where he is quickly acclimatising to the high performance culture of an AFL club.

“I come into the Westpac Centre most days of the week and join in all sessions, whether it's out on the track, doing conditioning inside, weights and all that,” he explained.

“It’s not only with the young players but the senior players as well. They’ve all make me feel comfortable around here and the coaches are all good as well.

“All the players are good blokes, but I get on well with Harts (Michael Hartley) in particular because we used to come in here on our holidays for a week or so when we were younger.”

Edwards is dealing closely with National Recruiting Assistant Adam Shepard during his time at the club and is spending much of his day with the club’s development coaches.

The coaches have played an important role in bringing the teenager up to speed on the training track where Edwards has had to quickly adjust to the team’s training program.

“It’s been pretty intense. I wasn't expecting the warm up to be as hard as it was at Monday’s training session. There was a lot of running and it was just very intense,” he admitted.

“I was a bit confused at first. I didn't know where to position myself or where to kick it or in which direction, but the players and coaches pointed me in the right direction. It's been helping my development.”

While his AFL dream must wait until the end of the year before it may be realised, Edwards is working diligently in the classrooms and on the sporting grounds of Melbourne’s Scotch College.

He relocated from Bateman’s Bay two years ago to board at the College and underlined his potential when he won Scotch’s senior best and fairest last season as a year 11 student, following in the footsteps of current AFL players Campbell Brown (Gold Coast) and Nick Smith (Sydney).

“I played on the wing and forward flank last year, but mainly as a wingman. The APS is a good competition with a lot of strong teams and a lot of good players come out of it,” he says.

“I'd like to play up forward as a half forward or as a small midfielder, but in the long term I’m happy to play wherever I’m picked.

“A lot of people look at me as being like players like Cyril (Rioli), and some of the other indigenous players like Eddie Betts and Lewis Jetta who are really quick.”

Although small in stature, Edwards makes up for it with his pace and desire to hold up his end for his teammates with fierce forward pressure.

“My strengths are at ground level and with my speed. My attack on the ball is developing well and so is my tackling. I like to tackle and put the pressure on players.

“It’s a big focus at Scotch where it's one of our KPIs. Throughout the season we looked at it across the ground but towards the end of the year we focused on tackling inside forward 50.”

As he enters his final year of secondary education, school football is Edwards’ primary focus, but he will spend time with Oakleigh in the TAC Cup at different stages of the season.

“It will be good to play for Oakleigh and get that taste of TAC Cup footy. I trained at Oakleigh last year before my exams, and it's a really good group. There are a lot of Scotch boys down there which has been good for support.”

Away from football, Edwards is studying English, geography, history and environmental science and is completing his Vocational Education Traineeship (VET) in Sport and Recreation during his final year at Scotch.

“My VET subject means that I go up into the junior school at Scotch and help out in Physical Education classes and run the class or when they have footy on Wednesdays I'll go umpire with another mate of mine.

“I'd like to finish off my Certificate Four (in Sport and Recreation) which means I could do work anywhere along the lines of sport development and PE teaching. It will give me a few options.”

Moving to Melbourne as a 15-year-old to board at Scotch meant that Edwards had to leave behind his parents and five younger siblings in Bateman’s Bay, on the South Coast of NSW. But having relocated from Kalgoorlie five years prior, Edwards was already well accustomed to the idea of moving states.

He hopes that at least one of his younger brothers will follow in his footsteps in boarding at Scotch in the future.

“They're smart footballers for their age. They play for fun but they just know how to play. It's just a really sporty background I suppose.”

That background includes hours spent on the basketball courts of Kalgoorlie and Bateman’s Bay, a sport that remains one of Edwards’ passions and has no doubt helped shape his footballing prowess.

But for now, the rest of Edwards’ football will be shaped across three institutions – Scotch, Oakleigh and Collingwood – ensuring that he will have given himself the best possible chance to put forward a strong case for a permanent place in the black and white in 2014.