THE STORIES about Tarryn Thomas flowed thick and fast this week.
The North Melbourne prodigy, one game into his second AFL season, is a work-in-progress with as much potential as any Kangaroo who's walked through the Arden Street doors in the past two decades.
He oozes skill and X-factor, glides across the ground, boasts rare on-field awareness and has a mean streak that perfectly suits the rough-and-ready Rhyce Shaw playing style.
Dual Syd Barker medallist Daniel Wells is the lofty, go-to player comparison for Thomas, who grew up idolising another Aboriginal, evergreen Hawk Shaun Burgoyne.
AFL greats Brent Harvey and Gavin Brown speak glowingly about Thomas, senior assistant Jade Rawlings has seen him "grow" off-field, and high performance boss Jona Segal is one of his biggest fans.
At the same time, the "16-year-old living in a 20-year-old's body" – housemate Aaron Hall's words – still rises on gamedays and tucks into a bowl of Fruit Loops, followed by a Gatorade and a chocolate bar.
There was also the time Thomas sucked down three Pepsi Maxes within an hour of Kangaroos training ending. The internal limit is supposed to be one or two a week, if that.
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His cooking deficiencies are also already the stuff of legend at North Melbourne.
"Tarryn had some ravioli and I didn't have my phone on me, so he's text Jed Anderson and gone, 'Hey, cuz, how do I cook pasta?'," Hall told AFL.com.au with a laugh.
"Jed's replied, 'Just frickin' put it in water – how hard is it?'.
"We're teaching him how to cook. He was 18 when he moved over and he just didn't know. The only thing he knew how to do was two-minute noodles."
For all Hall's teasing, he is proving a steady and positive influence on his fellow Tasmanian.
Thomas used to live on the other side of Melbourne Airport and didn't have his driver's licence when he first lobbed at the Roos – and even once he did, it was a one-hour-plus round trip to training.
The then-teenager asked Hall if he could move in with his family, which includes his partner Sophia, their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Penelope and a pending arrival this October.
Thomas was supposed to move out at the end of last season but convinced Hall to let him stay longer. However, there was a catch.
"The deal was if he stays with me for another year, he's got to make sure he saves all his money and buys a house," Hall said.
"He's not allowed to leave here and go and rent. He's probably not ready to go and live on his own yet, anyway."
Harvey, a jack-of-all-trades at North and the AFL's games record-holder, was watching pre-Christmas when Thomas stepped off the track because his feet were hurting.
Not long after, the second-year forward-midfielder – the No.8 pick in the 2018 NAB AFL Draft – had ditched his footy boots for runners and was not only training again but leading his running group.
"It was a piece of resilience and I'm not sure it will be career-changing for him but for him to know he can push through the pain barrier and go to another level is massive," Harvey said.
"In his first year he was hoping for training to finish, whereas now he's out there doing extras."
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Thomas' running ability is now a far cry from one of his earliest impressions, when some journalists – invited to take part in the Yo-Yo torture test – outlasted him and he was one of the first out.
His steep improvement has catapulted him into North's best 10 runners, and Segal thinks he could one day be in the top handful.
The fitness boss already rates Thomas' acceleration and change of direction as "elite".
"I don't think that day was any great epiphany but I think it's something he looks back on now and knows he was that far off," Segal told AFL.com.au.
"He looks, I'll say, laconic but for me the mark of a highly skilled athlete is their ability to execute and make it look effortless.
"He's a really good athlete, with a good mix of speed, power and endurance, and you rarely get guys with such nice skills who also have that make-up."
They worked closely together at the start of May, when Thomas made the trip to Segal's Gladysdale property, in the Yarra Ranges, for some training with a difference.
Not only was the environment different but he ran up hills and mixed lifting weights with carrying haybales and doing push-ups on them, among other exercises.
In another quirk, Segal also discovered Thomas' morning music vice: Come On Eileen.
It's hard to get many words out of Thomas in a media interview.
Many have tried and most fail, yet Segal thinks he will blossom into a strong media performer, in line with his expected sharp ascent as a footballer.
Others describe Thomas as initially shy but a completely different character – cheeky – once you get to know him.
"He's a little like me with the media. He doesn't want to portray his proper personality. Not yet, anyway," Hall said.
"In the AFL, everyone is like, 'If you get a high prospect, you have to try and groom them into a club captain or leader' and whether Tarryn can be a club captain, I don't know.
"But it's his personality – it's who he is – and I've told him not to lose that, because that's what makes him the talent he is, on and off the field."
Everyone AFL.com.au spoke to about Thomas described him as "a good kid" or some variation on that, from his then-AFL Tasmania talent manager Jy Bond, to Harvey and Hall, plus Brown and Segal.
"He's got this really nice balance of a little bit of lad and a bit of spunk but he's highly respectful when it's appropriate to be," Segal said.
"It makes him good fun to be around."
Segal's kids were drawn to Thomas "like ducks to water" and quickly figured out to bypass their dad and go straight to Thomas when they wanted their sugar hit.
"He's got work to do around his education with nutrition, cooking and recovery," Segal said.
"I started at the club as a dietitian and I'd find out about the North guys eating this or drinking that and I'd be horrified and think, 'These are professional athletes; what are they doing?'.
"But over time, you realise this is part of it. They have to be able to learn and improve."
Thomas grew up playing rugby league in Sydney (he was a full-back) and completed a season of rugby after moving to Tasmania, before his dad coaxed him to Australian Football.
He quickly became one of the state's brightest prospects, with that rugby background still evident in the hard edge he plays with.
Thomas entered North Melbourne's Next Generation Academy program and every time he visited, the club's staff already knew about "the jet" from Launceston.
By the time he hit his draft year, his on-field exploits had a significant following, including his image being plastered on a North Launceston company car.
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"He's a very special player, in that he sees the game incredibly well, in terms of his decision-making and awareness on the ground," Brown said.
"What he does, which is really intriguing, is he plays the basics really well. He's a guy who exudes X-factor but doesn't look to use it all the time – only when he needs to."
That extraordinary on-field vision was evidenced in an intraclub game at Arden St this past pre-season.
Thomas was at the fall of the ball, hard-up on the boundary line, and he pulled a kick "almost at right angles" across his body to a leading forward.
Brown remembers it vividly: "We even said, 'Gee, only a Daniel Wells could pull that kick off'."
Often in those Thomas moments, Harvey notes, the coaches don't utter a word but simply catch each other's eyelines and nod or smirk in unison.
Bond, who now works for NAB League club Oakleigh Chargers, said Thomas' innate ability was always part of his package.
"I remember one of the games against Sydney's Academy side, and Tarryn and (Nick) Blakey were going head to head," Bond told AFL.com.au.
"Tarryn put his body on the line and physically got knocked around, then he came back and took three or four marks and kicked three or four goals in the last quarter.
"He was like, 'What do you expect?'. It wasn't in an arrogant way – he's just very confident in his ability – and it was a wet day but he handled the ball like it was dry."
The Wells comparison owes to more than sharing the same AFL club and being Indigenous: it's their smooth running style, balance, kicking styles and personality traits.
Even still, Harvey cautions against expecting Thomas to be as good as Wells – "one of the better players I've played with" – while Hall warns him expectations will be higher in 2020 and beyond.
This journey is only just getting started.
"A lot of where he's got to so far has been on his natural ability but what make us so excited, and what we're starting to see, is he's not someone who's happy to rely on that," Segal said.
"He's a genuine competitor, he hates losing and actually likes to train, so when you see that, you think, 'Wow, if we can foster that and add that on top of his natural ability', you start to dream about the genuine superstars.
"We'll try and support him, and hopefully he proves us all correct."