Emerson Jeka in action for the Western Jets in the NAB League

NEW HAWK Emerson Jeka started the 2019 season with the goal of being a first-round draft pick. 

It was bold but not outrageous, evidenced by AFL.com.au identifying the towering swingman in November last year as one of 10 footballers to watch ahead of the next season. 

The others were Matt Rowell (who ended up being pick one), Noah Anderson (two), Luke Jackson (three), Hayden Young (seven), Caleb Serong (eight), Dylan Williams (23), Jeremy Sharp (27) and Cameron Taheny (50). 

Jeka's contested-marking talents helped score him an invite to the second night of the draft but, like eventual Lion Deven Robertson a day earlier, he was left watching others celebrate.


"It was a bit of a shame. I had to sit through it and watch other people get drafted, which was a bit painful," Jeka told AFL.com.au this week.

"I had my hopes up leading into the draft, so it was a very emotional night for myself and my family. I didn't even think of the rookie draft – I thought I was done. 

"My goal was to be drafted at the national draft, so when that didn't happen, I was feeling pretty empty and was just wondering, 'What am I going to do now?'."

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That disappointment was short lived, even if it was a difficult night.

Hawthorn offered 197cm Jeka no warning but swooped with its first pick in the rookie draft the next morning to give the relieved Western Jets product his chance. 

It wasn't the grand arrival he planned but he at least has a seat at the AFL table, something he is "super proud" about. Of his lofty ambition, he offered no apology.

"I don't want to be mediocre – I want to be one of the best," Jeka said.

Having a lot of expectation on yourself and external expectation has its ups and downs, so it probably did get to me a little bit.

- Emerson Jeka

"But I tried throughout the year just to block off that external pressure and not be so hard on myself and just go out there and play football." 

The Hawks could end up being the ideal landing point for Jeka, who has Albanian heritage. 

Champion forward Jarryd Roughead's retirement means there is great opportunity in the coming years for someone else to step up. 

That's even with 26-year-old former Giant Jon Patton crossing to Waverley Park in the Telstra AFL Trade Period. 

Mitch Lewis is now Hawthorn's most promising tall forward but he, too, had a humble beginning as the No.76 draft pick in 2016. 

Part of Jeka's appeal to the Hawks, who crave versatility in their players, was his ability to play at both ends of the ground.

The 18-year-old had spent some time in defence before this year but the knee injury he initially feared had crushed his AFL dream ended up adding to that experience in a roundabout way. 

Jeka missed two months, including the start of the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships, recovering from the hyperextension of his right knee – much better than a dreaded anterior cruciate ligament rupture.

Emerson Jeka holds his knee after injuring it while playing against the Casey Demons. Picture: AFL Photos

He returned to play the last two games of the championships for Vic Metro and was solid enough in attack with a pair of goals. 

Then, Jeka made the decision to ask Jets coach Ryan O'Keefe, a dual premiership winner and 2012 Norm Smith medallist at Sydney, about switching to defence in the NAB League for a while.

It was largely designed to prove his versatility but was also part of his new mindset post-injury. 

"I found that (injury) was sort of a blessing in disguise, because it made me a lot more determined, hungrier and fresher, in a sense," he said. 

"I thought I came back a lot more aggressive and had a bit more fun with football. 

"I'm just going to give it 110 per cent this pre-season, put my head down and if they are impressed, then I might get a senior game, but I don't really mind. 

"If I don't, I can go and play VFL, hopefully dominate and develop my game, then when I'm ready, I'll play senior football."

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