PART 1Monday, January 6, 2014 – JARROD Pickett is smiling, as he seemingly always does. He slaps hands with his AIS-AFL Academy teammates. He's just completed the 20-metre sprint test in 2.8 seconds at Melbourne's State Hockey and Netball Centre in Parkville. There is nobody faster than him.
Some two hours later, he is at North Melbourne's Arden Street headquarters, running a 3-km time trial. Pickett gets to the end in 11:12 minutes, his best time. He also set new PBs in the vertical jump and agility test.
Pickett had planned to improve. Over Christmas he paid $180 for a three-week gym membership, and went every day. He's cut bread and soft drinks from his diet. Having waited most of his life for his draft year, he wanted to start it well.
The speedy half-forward grew up in Fremantle. He lived there until he was 10 with his parents Lance and Monica, and older siblings Hannah and Lance Jr. He was an active kid, regularly walking inside with bruises on his legs, having mucked around in the backyard with his brother or one of his many cousins.
He also had a cheeky side. One time his friend ran inside the house and told Lance that a car had hit Pickett. Lance rushed out in a panic to see his son lying on the road, but Pickett got up and sped off, laughing at his prank. Luckily for Pickett, his dad couldn't catch him.
Footy in the bloodIn 2007, the family moved to Geraldton, a coastal city more than 400km north of Perth where Monica was appointed as an Aboriginal Legal Service lawyer, working mainly with children's court matters.
At the local football club, Pickett always enjoyed competing with the older boys, and played three years of under-14s with his brother because registrations had closed for the under-12s team when they arrived.
One game he kicked eight goals from the centre. He was good at snapping goals, and was quicker than most, even though he was a bit chubby then. Lance was the team's coach and when Pickett played well, his dad would buy him a pie, sausage roll or hot dog after a game.
Born to run: a young Jarrod Pickett. Pictures: supplied
Football has long been a part of Pickett's family, with famous bloodlines in each of his parent's Indigenous backgrounds.
Pickett's grandmother Anne Davis (his dad's mum) had 18 siblings. One of those is the father of Leon Davis, a 225-game player for Collingwood. Lance has about 70 first cousins on the Davis side of his family.
He is also related to Byron Pickett, who played 204 games over 11 years for North Melbourne, Port Adelaide and Melbourne. Lance and Byron Senior's (Byron's dad) grandfathers were brothers.
Once every few years, the Davis clan, consisting of many cousins, come together to play a memorial match against the Ugle family, another large Indigenous family who has had young members pass away. The last time Pickett played in that game, he won the medal as best afield. (It now hangs in his family's kitchen, tangled with other medals and among other football accolades.)
Monica is the second cousin of St Kilda champion Nicky Winmar, and is also related to the Kickett family. Monica still goes by her maiden name of Collard, a family which produced former Fremantle and Richmond-listed player Clayton Collard. "I've always wanted to make it to the AFL like they did," Pickett says.
Jarrod Pickett aims to continue the family tradition at AFL level. Picture: AFL Media
That started to become more of a reality for him as a young teenager in Geraldton. Pickett's team, Chapman Valley, were rivals of the Rovers, who were led by a young star named Jack Martin.
Martin would run, jump, tackle and kick goals every week. Martin's Rovers were close to unbeatable. But, one season, Pickett's Royals were the only one to beat Martin and his Rovers. That was when Lance, as coach, told Pickett to tag Martin out of the game. At one stage, Pickett chased Martin down and caught him holding the ball. Nobody could recall that happening to Martin before.
Pickett (l) with a Geraldton young gun named Jack Martin. Picture: supplied
Lance was hard on his son, often to the point Pickett would tell him that when he made the AFL, Lance wouldn't be allowed to come and watch. But Lance had his son's interests at heart.
The family moved from Geraldton when Pickett was 13 at the start of 2010, because Lance could tell he had a footy future. Lance was keen to see his son play at WAFL club South Fremantle, where he played his footy, so they shifted back to the region to be in the club's zone.
They lived with Pickett's grandparents for three months in nearby suburb Hilton before settling into a place in Yangebup, a new suburb 25 minutes from Perth, where Pickett was still tied to the Bulldogs.
'I realised if I ran, nobody could catch me'Lance played for South Fremantle's reserves in 1987 as a 17-year-old, but enjoyed the company of friends and family too much to pursue a footy career. He left Souths and played in amateur, country and Sunday leagues through to his mid-30s. That's when he started coaching, and still has an involvement with Indigenous teams as part of his job in Western Australia's education department, where he mentors Indigenous students.
He didn't want Jarrod to miss out like he did. "Geraldton's a beautiful place, but in the end, the kids don't move from there because there are too many good things happening," Lance says.
Pickett noticed good things happen straight away when he settled in Yangebup. He was selected for the under-15 state schoolboys side and made the All Australian team, and that's when he discovered just how fast he was. "I realised if I ran, nobody could catch me," he says.
Soon enough, he was in South Fremantle's program. "His speed and confidence through traffic made him stand out, and he had a sidestep like a rugby player," says Arthur Maskos, the club's under-18 coach who was watching the under-15s to see the talent coming through.
Pickett actually joined a touch rugby team around that time, and made the state side for his age group, dodging past opponents as a left wing.
His footy was also taking shape. It was at this stage his pace started to develop more. One day, on a camping trip, he even snuck up on a kangaroo and caught it. He starred for Western Australia during the NAB AFL Under-16 Championships in 2012 (you can watch the highlights below) and was picked in the AIS-AFL Academy level one squad, learning about nutrition and diet, and matters away from the field.
When his friends asked why he didn't get autographs from his Academy mentors including Glen Jakovich, Matthew Lloyd and Brad Johnson, Pickett said he got their phone numbers instead.
Skinnier, faster, betterHis development continued in 2013, when he was picked for Western Australia to play in the under-18 championships as a bottom-aged small forward. This season, with increased fitness and experience, he expects more of himself.
"I definitely want to play in the midfield. It feels easier there, with more freedom. The structures are really simple, and you can run all over the ground," Pickett says.
"I'm not sure where my pace came from. I didn't grow up doing athletics or anything, I just played footy and basketball, and some rugby.
"The first time I did a 20-metre sprint I got 3.14 seconds and I thought I was slow, then I got a bit skinnier, fitter and stronger and it's made it so much easier to make it around people.
"It's hard to describe what it's like. I didn't do much to get fast, it just came to me."
A kid can dream. Picture: supplied
It's the little things that will help this year as he aims to get drafted in November. His family has noticed they no longer help him get his training gear ready; he does it the night before. They don't need to tell him to get up and go for a morning jog; he hops out of bed when his alarm sounds and off he goes.
Even though the big pool in his backyard is freezing, he will amble out the back door, walk up a couple of stone steps and jump in the water after games for recovery.
He cleans his own clothes, and hangs them out to dry, including the towels he uses for footy. Being more prepared off the field is part of his aim to be better on it.
"Last year I used to cruise but I've stepped it up and I'm going 100 per cent every session. The coaches notice these little things, and in the past I wouldn't have done that," he says
"Now, I don't want to be the one who's cruising out there. I want to be beating everyone.
"It's probably my worst fear, coming last in the 3km time trial.
"But it's good motivation for me. I'm excited about the year, but I'm also nervous because early in the season everyone will watch you and if you have a couple of bad games that's how they'll judge you.
"I want to focus on being consistent and making a name for myself."
NEXT: Part 2 – 'If I make it, they'll look up to me'