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Jack Billings will have to wait until 2013 before he's eligible to be drafted - ${keywords}
Jack Billings will have to wait until 2013 before he's eligible to be drafted
JACK Billings' promising football career began in his backyard, where he would spend hours kicking a footy back and forth with parents Graeme and Letitia, swapping between his preferred left foot and his developing right one.

Fittingly, it's still a place of much importance for the 16-year-old as he moves into the next new and exciting phase of his footballing life.

At least once a day, Billings, who has starred at this year's NAB AFL Under-18 Championships with Vic Metro, wades through his outdoor pool in the garden of his Kew home in Melbourne's inner east, making sure his legs are fresh enough to run out his next training session or game.

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On Tuesday night, a bitterly cold one in Melbourne, Billings was waist deep in water at about 10pm after Metro training, his iPod headphones and jumper offering the only respite from the chill. "He's very diligent, all the time," says Graeme.

Billings is a very particular player on the field, too. He watches games unfold, moves to the right spots at the right time, sizes up options with the ball, and usually delivers with precision by foot. Onlookers best describe him as uncomplicated. He works hard, but makes things look easy, and all this has been on show so far in the carnival.

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Despite the talent, the extra recovery sessions and his strong showings among contemporaries, Billings won't be at an AFL club at the end of this year. He is too young to nominate for this year's NAB AFL Draft and for the 'mini-draft' for 17-year-olds.

And, although Graeme is an avid Essendon supporter and sits on the board of the club's Bill Hutchison Foundation, Jack won't be the subject of any father-son discussions.

However, the fact he isn't available to an AFL club until the 2013 intake hasn't stopped the classy half-forward and midfielder from catching attention as a bottom-age prospect.

"His poise when he's got the ball and when he's under pressure makes him a real standout; he just looks comfortable no matter what's going on," one club recruiter said this week. "If he keeps going at the natural rate of improvement, he'll be somewhere at the top of the draft next year."

It's easy to see why Billings has people excited. Already, Billings' kicking is at an elite AFL standard according to Oakleigh Chargers regional manager Mark Smart. He's also quick and clever.

In Metro's round-one loss to Northern Territory, Billings kicked three goals and was one of his team's best players. He had a rest the next game, and returned two weeks ago with five goals and a near best-on-ground effort in his team's win over South Australia, who were considered the favourites in the carnival.

On Friday, he will play an important role as a bottom-ager in Metro's meeting with rivals Vic Country.

Billings isn't big yet (he's near-on 182cm and 73kg) but he hasn't been daunted by playing on stronger and older opponents, has learned a few things, and feels better for the chance.

"It has made me feel more comfortable that I can match it," Billings told

"Especially being younger, you always think they're going to be bigger, but I've backed myself and I'm really enjoying it."

Billings has also become used to juggling a few sporting pursuits without getting burned out. Once footy season's over, he participates in athletics for his school Scotch College, competing in the 100 and 200-metre sprints and in long jump and triple jump.

Those attributes show in his footy, particularly in his overhead marking. "It's one of my strengths," Billings says. "I've been working on it a lot and have been able to take a few grabs."

In summer, Billings has been a member of Scotch's first XI cricket team since year 10, where he bowls medium pace, bats in the middle order and is the team's best fieldsman, often being used in the covers or out on the boundary to save runs. It's another trait reflected in his footy; Billings reacts quickly to things, and never seems to be out of the game.

Undoubtedly Billings' greatest weapon, however, is his kicking. Graeme remembers Jack first picking up a footy and immediately going to his left side, and like any classy left-footer Billings has a classically smooth action.

He's especially dangerous near goal, able to kick goals from any angle or spot a better target on the lead.

Billings is told to back himself with his kicking and he does, but unlike many brilliant left-foot kicks he's remained dedicated to making his right side better.

It's been said that when he guides the ball to his right foot, it can sometimes be hard to tell which side is his preference.

But Billings is learning to not rely on his kicking all the time. At the start of the year he went to the Chargers looking for feedback and they thought he needed to handball more, and he's taken it on board. He sees West Coast's Andrew Gaff, who was drafted from the Chargers and also played at Billings' junior club Kew Comets, and notices how Gaff makes an influence with his hands.

"Last year at the under-16 championships you'd look at my stats and I'd have however many kicks and then maybe one or two handballs," he says. "I've just tried to work on that this year so that whenever I get it I always look for the handball option."

With almost 18 months until next year's draft, Billings doesn't need to have everything right just yet. But that won't stop him from trying to get better.

He's using the experience at Metro as a way to improve and take things in, so that this time next year he's a much more rounded player. He knows that things can change before then, but he's happy to wait, bide his time and keep at it.

"All that stuff [with the draft] is so far away and it will take care of itself," Billings says. "I love this program, so I can't wait to do it again."

Callum Twomey is a reporter for the AFL website. Follow him on Twitter at @AFL_CalTwomey.