AS THE second of three tall footballing brothers, WA draft prospect Mitchell Edwards developed a competitive streak early on that has shaped him as a ruckman and made him one of the leading tall prospects in this year's pool.
At 206cm and 88kg, Edwards has found himself matched up on stronger, bigger-bodied opponents through 2023, but it is that competitiveness he has relied on to emerge on top more often than not.
Having grown up admiring Joel Selwood's approach to the game, his best performances have come when matched up on ruckmen who bring a new level out of him, such as Gold Coast Academy prospect Ethan Read and Carlton-listed big man Hudson O'Keeffe.
The motivated 18-year-old knows he would initially be conceding strength and size to ruck opponents in the AFL system but said he would back his competitive streak to make up for it if given the chance by a club next season.
"Obviously I'm a bit skinnier than most ruckmen, but I feel like my competitiveness makes up for that. I always try to find a way to win and do most of the time," Edwards told AFL.com.au.
"I can adapt and I know that coming up against better ruckmen I can go to their level with them.
"Growing up with two brothers, you're competing against each other a lot in sport and whatever else, so it's something I've always had. I just hate losing.
"I just hate losing ruck taps and I remember the ruck taps I lose.
"I remember against Swan Districts when I played reserves, I lost the first ruck tap and I was mad about that so my goal with the next one was to just get a good knee into him and win the tap and get the clearance."
Edwards' older brother Josh was a 203cm WAFL ruckman with West Coast this year while the youngest of the three boys is Ollie, who is part of Peel Thunder's Futures program as an underage talent and on track to be the tallest of the trio.
They grew up in Mandurah, 72km south of Perth, with a lifestyle built around fishing, boating, 4WDing and sport.
"It feels like we've got everything to do around here when it comes to anything outdoors really and I couldn't have asked for a better place to grow up," Edwards said.
"Me and Josh are a lot closer in age, so we had some battles here and there, but we do get along a lot better now. And Ollie learned off us about the work ethic you need to have to get to your best footy, which is what we're all striving to do."
Edwards' football highlights have been his team successes, with the ruckman highlighting a premiership with South Mandurah in year 10 and a colts premiership with Peel Thunder last year.
That 2022 Thunder premiership saw him sacrifice an invite to play on the MCG on Grand Final day in the annual AFL Futures Under-17s clash, before the team he grew up supporting won the premiership.
"Me and Clay Hall and Ethan Logan had to make a big sacrifice and miss the Grand Final curtain-raiser game to play in a preliminary final. We won by a point and it all paid off in the end because we won the premiership," he said.
Edwards, who said he had been "living in the gym the past few weeks", has always enjoyed watching Geelong tall Mark Blicavs because of his versatility and Melbourne star Max Gawn for the way he can take over a game with his aerial presence.
Western Bulldogs ruckman Tim English, who also started his career as a skinny ruckman, has more recently emerged as a favourite and a player the teenager can model aspects of his game on.
"Obviously Tim English is a great tap ruckman and that's one of my biggest strengths as a ruckman as well," Edwards said.
"The way he follows up as well. Him and Max Gawn are my favourites at the moment, but I love watching Sam Draper play. He's got a lot of X-factor for a ruckman, which is pretty cool."
Among Edwards' standout performances this season have been an AFL Academy game against Carlton's VFL team, which gave him a chance to draw heavily on his competitiveness.
Matched up on O'Keeffe, who had led Vic Metro in the ruck during their 2022 under-18 championships, Edwards got a taste of what life could be like against bigger, fitter opponents.
"It was a great experience. I knew he was going to test me endurance wise running both ways, and endurance hasn't been my greatest strength," Edwards said.
"But I've worked pretty hard on it and I went with him, pushing back and pushing forward against him and it was a great duel. That's probably one of my best games for the year."