JORDAN Clark is making a mockery of the general belief that a first-year player needs a full pre-season under his belt to play regularly at AFL level.
The 18-year-old West Australian has been a revelation for Geelong this season, particularly given he's carrying some excess weight and is yet to complete a single pre-season.
The impressive runner has belied his seeming lack of physical preparation to play 13 of 14 games this season in the team that is two games clear atop the AFL ladder.
Clark again covered GMHBA Stadium beautifully on Friday night when he was one of the best players afield in the Cats' win over Adelaide, collecting a personal-best 23 possessions (eight contested) and slotting a goal.
His teammates, including skipper and mentor Joel Selwood, are surprised he has performed so well given he is "a bit porky".
The youngster doesn't sidestep the issue.
"My skinfolds are one of the highest at the club," Clark told AFL.com.au on Monday when he received the round 15 nomination for the NAB AFL Rising Star award.
"They're a work in progress. Joel tends to take the mickey a bit, as most of the boys do in a tongue-in-cheek way, but that's good because you need to have some fun."
Clark's skinfolds probably wouldn't be such an issue if he'd been able to complete a full summer of gruelling training.
The fact his developing body has never been put through such challenges has been largely due to cricket commitments – he was a fast bowler for the Australian under-16 team who was fast-tracked to senior grade cricket in Perth. There has also been the odd bit of bad luck, such as the bout of glandular fever that delayed his first pre-season with Geelong.
It doesn't bother Clark either way.
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"Maybe I don't need a pre-season! I might throw that up (to the coaches) and see how I go," he quipped, before taking the subject more seriously.
"I'm really excited about the idea of finally doing a full pre-season one day, hopefully next pre-season. But I certainly can't complain with how things have gone so far.
"I'm pretty happy at the moment. I wouldn't have thought I'd play so many games so soon in such a good and competitive team. But there's still to do for the rest of the year now so I've just got to keep focusing and keep improving."
Born in Mandurah, Clark also spent time in Albany before receiving a scholarship to Perth's Guildford Grammar School, where he boarded in his final two years of school while making his way through the grades at WAFL club Claremont.
He first attracted attention in last year's NAB AFL Under-18 Championships when he was selected in the All Australian team after claiming the WA's Most Valuable Player award and leading the competition for metres gained from half-back.
Clark further enhanced his reputation by averaged 15 possessions in five senior WAFL games, including two finals, for Claremont.
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Selected by Geelong with No.15 pick in last year's NAB AFL Draft, Clark was soon struck down with glandular fever but showed no sign of lethargy when he joined full training in January.
He thrust his name into round one calculations in the Cats' opening JLT Community Series clash with West Coast back in Perth when he gathered 21 possessions was and among their best players.
It was a surreal occasion given that he'd barracked for the Eagles and had idolised premiership heroes Jeremy McGovern and Elliot Yeo. However he was so focused on playing that he completely forgot about the opposition.
"That game was probably the turning point for me, to have such an influence on a game at that level was something that I didn't think would come straight away like that," he said.
"I've taken a bit of confidence from that performance. I was a bit quieter in some games early in the season but I've looked back on that game and told myself, 'I can play at this level – I've done it before.'"
Clark has missed just one game this season – as fate would have it, it was the round six clash with West Coast – when he was given a rest.
"I was a bit dirty about getting rested because I'd never missed a game before when I was fit. I wanted to play," he said.
"But the week after you notice how much fresher your body feels. It was probably good timing for me, especially after I had glandular fever."
Clark, who signed a two-year contract extension in April, credits much of his rapid development to the efforts of his teammates.
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"Early doors I was playing defence where I had a fair bit to do with Tommy Stewart, and since I've moved up to the wing I've had more to do with (skipper) Joel (Selwood) and Mitch Duncan. They've all been great," he said.
His switch from half-back to a wing was made when the returns of defenders Zach Tuohy and Jed Bews were imminent. Clark was a reluctant wingman at first.
"I was unsure about it. I'd played wing a couple of times as a junior and didn't like it too much," he admitted.
"When the coaches told me that's where they'd try to play me because Zach and 'Bewsy' were on the way back, I was nervous about it but I welcomed the idea and just took it on."
"I sit down with Joel and (midfield coach) Matthew Knights and try to take one thing each week and learn from it and get better. I like to keep a simple mindset."
A team-first mindset permeates the Cattery, and there has perhaps been no better example of this than Clark's first AFL goal, which came via a remarkably unselfish gesture from spearhead Tom Hawkins.
"I was super-grateful for that. In a nutshell that is Tommy Hawkins. He's all about the team, and that's our focus as a group. We play for each other and hopefully it'll bring us team success," Clark said.