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Aurrichio hoping to follow in footsteps of fellow American Holmes

American draft hopeful Alex Aurrichio sits in an ice bath after completing a gym session at ProSport Fitness Centre, Melbourne on January 13, 2015. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Alex Aurrichio in an ice bath after tough January training session
Seeing how successful he's been, it definitely pushes you that much harder knowing there's definitely opportunities if you earn it
Alex Aurrichio

AMERICAN man mountain Alex Aurrichio says he's been inspired to keep chasing his AFL dream by Jason Holmes' action-packed debut for St Kilda.

Holmes' high-leaping ruckwork had a major impact in the Saints' draw with Geelong last Saturday night.

And it proved to rookie hopeful Aurrichio that there's rewards on offer if he persists and builds on an encouraging first season playing VFL for the Northern Blues.

"Jumping over the Geelong ruck … unreal," Aurrichio said of his compatriot Holmes.

"He's had a hell of a week. I actually spoke to him a couple of times, I think he's still in a bit of shock – he hasn't taken it all in yet. But he's handled it really well and he played really well on the weekend, which was good.

"Seeing how successful he's been, it definitely pushes you that much harder knowing there's definitely opportunities if you earn it."

Nothin will stop Alex Aurrichio

Aurrichio is more of a power athlete than the spring-heeled Holmes, who hails from Chicago.

At 198cm, he's slightly shorter than most League ruckmen but that's just another hurdle the hulking 107kg former soccer goalkeeper is determined to overcome.

Aurrichio only arrived in Australia last November after being encouraged by his New York Magpies teammates to bite the bullet and move down under, despite no clubs following up after he tested well at the USAFL Combine.

He's defied his wildest expectations by playing in 10 senior VFL matches so far for the Carlton-aligned Northern Blues.

A raft of injuries cracked the door open and he's competed hard to average 28 hit-outs (Holmes averaged 29 this year before making his Saints debut) and five disposals.

Last round, Aurrichio achieved a heartening landmark when he was named in the Blues' best for the first time after winning 36 hit-outs in a 90-point hammering from Box Hill, a side stacked with Hawthorn-listed players.

"Right now we've been ravaged by injuries. Top to bottom, we've been killed … it's kind of worked out in my favour a little bit," he told AFL.com.au.

"(Robert) Warnock went down and a couple of other injuries have really opened the door for me. It's been a hell of a year to be honest, just in terms of personal development.

"I've played at the 'G, I've played at Etihad and I'm going to play this weekend at Simonds Stadium down at Geelong.

"The situation I was in when I first came out here, if you had of told me I would play at these iconic Australian stadiums, I would've said 'You're out of your mind'."

American Jason Holmes impressed in his AFL debut last week

The game against Collingwood at the MCG on August 8 was televised, and Aurrichio became the butt of a good-natured joke afterwards.

"The thing with the commentators, beside the fact they were massacring my last name … they kept saying 'Let's see if he can get his first effective kick'.

"So the past weekend I was running down the middle and kicked it to one of my buddies down the field and he took a mark.

"I just heard someone say: 'Oh god, what is that?'.

"But it was a good kick, it had some good backspin to it. It was actually a good kick," he said with a laugh.

Sharpening his skills certainly hasn't been Aurrichio's biggest challenge. Instead, it's learning the subtleties of the foreign game – like where to run to get a kick.

But he's had some handy allies in his corner.

Terry Daniher helped him out over summer, while VFL Academy coach Darren Flanigan's advice deconstructing his performances in regular video reviews has been invaluable and he's also learnt the ropes from playing on some experienced campaigners.

"(Melbourne's Mark) Jamar plays a lot like me, he's big – he's not the tallest guy – but he was very strong and very technical," Aurrichio said.

"And then Majak Daw is just an athletic freak  - he's got the combination of size, power and jumping ability, so he was kind of a three-headed monster.

"I feel like at stoppages and centre bounces I've come a long way. It's just getting involved in the flow of the game outside the stoppages and taking marks."

But as hard as he works at his game, Aurrichio's biggest obstacle is outside of his control.

Because he was told by AFL clubs they couldn't recruit him without exposed form, he had to play at VFL ranks and forgo his right to be drafted as an international rookie – outside of a club's normal playing list.

It's a significant setback, but one he continues to fight to have reinstated.

In the meantime, he'll finish up working in his sales job this week, play out the season for the Blues before returning home to catch up with family and friends and save money for his second season playing Australian Rules.

The 25-year-old desperately wants to carve out a career as a professional athlete, and he isn't about to give up now.

"Now that I've gotten my fair share of game experience, in the off-season I would like to focus on developing other areas of my game up forward or down back," Aurrichio said.

"And I would like to try and get a taste of an AFL pre-season if I can get an invite - that would be awesome."