FREMANTLE leader Hayden Young has declared he wants to add size and explosiveness to the Dockers' midfield in 2024, with the former defender reinvigorated and turning heads as he trains full-time in his new role.
The classy left-footer is also confident his damaging kick can remain an asset in the congestion of the midfield after being a critical weapon for the Dockers off half-back through his first four seasons.
Young made the move into the midfield late last season with run-with roles on Geelong champion Patrick Dangerfield and Brisbane's dual Brownlow medallist Lachie Neale, sparking the engine room in a five-week run that set up his full-time shift ahead of 2024.
The 22-year-old said this pre-season had felt like a fresh start as he learns the intricacies of the midfield and prepares to boost an onball group that will benefit from his powerful movement and 189cm frame.
"I think that's the edge I can bring to the midfield group. We've already got really good ball-hunters and tacklers and pressure players, but I feel like I can bring some extra size and foot skill to the group," Young told AFL.com.au.
"Hopefully that can help us with our mid-forward connection and getting some penetrating kicks out of the guts.
"I had a bit of a head-start last year after jumping in there for a few weeks, but it's been good to spend more time in the midfield group and learn a bit of the lingo.
"It almost feels like I'm getting a fresh start and it's year one again. I'm learning new things, I'm making a lot of mistakes at training, which is good, and I'm reinvigorated when I come to work. There's a lot of upside for me at the moment, which I'm really loving."
The best example of Young's potential as a midfielder was his run-with role against Neale, winning 29 possessions (15 contested) and seven clearances while laying 10 tackles in a performance that earned him two Brownlow Medal votes.
Asked what type of midfielder he wanted to be after a full pre-season in the role, he said: "I want to be a reliable, consistent midfielder who is clean with the ball and can explode from stoppage, and hopefully be damaging with my foot skills."
The biggest adjustment Young had made with his kicking in the role this pre-season was pulling the trigger with less time.
"From the backline you usually have a bit more time and you can see the ground a bit more, but midfield you can get the ball under a lot of pressure and you've got to make a quick decision," he said.
"It's another challenge, which I like, and I feel like I just need to keep backing myself, be confident and keep going for my kicks. Hopefully my game can evolve and that can be a strength in the midfield.
"I've been focused on trying to explode out of stoppage and give myself a few steps to straighten up and I feel like it's been going really well."
When it comes to preparing physically for the midfield, Young said he was happy with his size and strength but was focused on improving his tank after an off-season visit to the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas with teammate Caleb Serong.
A week of physical testing had given the pair insights into how their bodies work and how they can get the most out of them, with Young learning that his power and force outputs were in good order but his aerobic systems needed more work.
"There's some really cool data that we can start to implement into our training programs and just try to be the best versions of ourselves," Young said.
"You've got to follow the program to a certain degree as far as our running and our loads, but I've been finding small windows to get some extras in and it's been fun to have a bit more control.
"One thing I learned, with me and all the athletes that were there, is that we're all really different, but when we go and do our training session we all do the same thing.
"I've been able to be more specific about what I want to work on and hopefully that will either heighten my strengths or bring up my weaknesses."
Outside a jam-packed schedule, that included visits to NFL clubs including the Dallas Cowboys, Young found time to visit the Grand Canyon and recreate a photo that his Dad took when also visiting America as a 22-year-old.
A member of the Dockers' leadership group who prioritises strong relationships, he returned refreshed and ready to attack a 2024 season that has the Dockers feeling optimistic following some more energetic performances in the final five weeks of last season.
"We came into the year with a lot of expectations and probably didn't deal with them very well. By the end of the year when finals was out of the picture, we were able to play a bit clearer in the mind," Young said.
"Blokes were trusting themselves, we were really decisive with our decisions, and we were playing an aggressive brand of footy that was hard to play against.
"That was a really good lesson for us to learn that we have to start the season like that. We want to hit the ground running."