Taylor Goad in action during the 2km time trial at the AFL Draft Combine at the AIA Centre on October 6, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

MIDWAY through a class at school late last year, Taylor Goad's best mate had an idea.

Goad, a dual sport athlete, was about to start researching college basketball programs in the United States. But he wasn't fully sold on the idea. A talented footballer as well, he'd also been weighing up whether he should instead follow that path.

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So, Goad's mate Tom Wheaton – himself an impressive young footballer – had a thought. He would pass on the number of South Adelaide's talent manager, Mark Clayton, and see whether he could be convinced to choose footy as his priority.

Goad and Clayton had a quick chat and an invite was extended for the youngster to join the SANFL side for a few upcoming pre-season training sessions. He impressed, so he stayed for a few more. Barely 12 months on, a career in the AFL is now on his radar.

"I wasn't really enjoying basketball as much," Goad told AFL.com.au.

"I was also playing school footy and I was really enjoying it, just the camaraderie. I wanted to put all of my eggs in one basket and see what could happen if I fully committed to playing footy.


"It just started with a conversation with my best mate in class. He just said to come out to pre-season, so I did. He gave me the coach's phone number and I chatted to him. He told me to come out and it went from there."

Goad stands out in this year's draft class, both literally and figuratively. At 206cm, the teenager towers over most other prospects. But he's also one of the few ruck options in the pool this season.

Renowned for his athleticism and his follow-up work at ground level, Goad ultimately played in South Adelaide's under-18s premiership victory and averaged 10.4 disposals and 21.2 hitouts per game at that level this year.

Goad also played all four games for South Australia at the national under-18s championships, where he averaged 7.5 disposals and 16.5 hitouts, in a campaign that stamped him alongside Ethan Read, Will Green and Mitch Edwards as one of the country's best ruck prospects.

"Max Gawn is my favourite ruckman, I love watching him," Goad said.

"I watch a fair bit of him playing, just the way he gets around the ground. Not only that, but he's got good leadership. He picks up high disposals, so he's not just a ruckman. He's got good follow-up work. I pride myself on the second and third efforts. Tap, follow-up, then if it's not a possession it's a tackle or a bump."

Taylor Goad celebrates a goal with teammates during the SANFL U18 match between South Adelaide and West Adelaide on April 29, 2023. Picture: Peter Argent/SANFL

Goad possesses a skillset few rucks, both in the AFL and at under-18s level, are equipped with. As well as his imposing height, he ran sub-three seconds in the 20m sprint at both the SANFL testing day and again at the national Draft Combine, placing him in the top 10 of the testees.

"I didn't know I could run that fast," Goad laughed.

"When I went into pre-season and did the SANFL testing, I ran a 2.92 in the sprint. I sort of thought, 'Oh'. That's when I first started getting compared to other people and I realised it's a massive x-factor of mine that not many rucks have."

Taylor Goad handballs during the U18 National Championships match between South Australia and Western Australia at Optus Stadium on June 24, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Goad had always been on the radar within South Australia's football programs. But, given his relative inexperience due to his basketball commitments, he was initially left out of state pathways to continue gaining exposure with South Adelaide.

Eventually called into South Australia's squad for its upcoming national championships campaign by coach Tony Bamford towards the end of April, Goad hit the ground running and ultimately became one of the state's shining lights.

"He exceeded our expectations," Bamford told AFL.com.au.

"We watched him play for his school in the middle of last year when he was in Year 11 and just saw a tall, skinny kid who didn't really know what to do. He just moped around the ground. At that stage, if you'd said to me he would be our fastest under-18 next year, I would have laughed at you.

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"When he came into our program, he was a bit shy and raw and almost overwhelmed by the whole thing. By the end of it, my god. He was just a sponge. The thing that caught me straight away was that for a big fella, he was wanting to engage in all sorts of activities at training. He wanted to do as much groundball stuff as marking.

"From an educational viewpoint, he was always looking for clarity and coming to us seeking further information. He was thirsty for knowledge. That was unique as well, for a shy kid who had come into a program where he didn't really know anyone other than the South Adelaide boys. He was very proactive in seeking more knowledge."

Goad's rapid rate of improvement throughout the season, in what was his first campaign in a full-time football environment, combined with his unique athletic profile means he will continue to develop at the AFL level.

Taylor Goad marks the ball during the U18 National Championships match between South Australia and the Allies at Thebarton Oval on June 4, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

It's why a host of clubs, hungry for ruck depth and looking for the next modern ruck prospect like a Gawn, Luke Jackson or Tom De Koning, have circled Goad's name and now believe he could be a top-30 pick at this month's national draft.

"He's got the most upside of any player in our state, there's no doubt about that," Bamford said.

"It's because he hasn't had much exposure, but also because of his unique profile. They just don't come along like that all that often. He's got a midfield mindset in a Max Gawn body. Wherever he goes, the development coach is going to have a ball with him. He's a ripper."