IF CLUBS still need an indication of the work ethic that has put Ben Hobbs front of mind when it comes to this year's draft class, all they have to do is make the trek out to the Horsham Golf Club.
In January last year, Hobbs had barely picked up a driver in his life. By the time Victoria was heading into its first COVID-19 enforced lockdown just a couple of months later, he was playing off a handicap under 15 and improving by the day.
To most who know the talented GWV Rebels and Vic Country prospect, such a rapid rise with the sticks would be of no surprise. Such is Hobbs' competitiveness, he has a fierce determination to be the best at whatever he puts his mind to.
"If I try something, I want to be really good at it," Hobbs told AFL.com.au. "I grinded for a fair bit of that, but I really put a lot of effort into it. I started in the January and I was playing about three times a week."
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That mentality easily translates to the footy field. The tough 181cm midfielder has emerged as one of the best prospects in this year's NAB AFL Draft crop, averaging 28.5 disposals, 5.8 clearances and 5.5 tackles from his four full NAB League games.
Such form has been backed up at nationals level, with Hobbs winning 37 disposals and kicking two goals in a standout display for Vic Country in its opening trial game against Vic Metro in June.
In a draft full of players dividing opinion among club recruiters, the majority are sold when it comes to Hobbs. A growing list of them rate the brave accumulator as the best pure inside midfielder in the pool.
"From a football aspect, he's such a strong competitor. He's got all the attributes for being a strong contested player. He naturally finds the footy as a midfielder," Vic Country coach Paul Corrigan told AFL.com.au.
"But what I liked about him during a trial game … I pushed him forward and had a conversation with him. I told him it was really good to have that flexibility, moving forward into an AFL career.
"He went forward, still attracted the footy and was able to hit the scoreboard as well. Not only has he become renowned as a strong midfielder, but he's also got the adaptation to go forward at times. That's really invaluable for any side that takes him."
Having set himself a goal to make Vic Country's starting team as a bottom-age prospect last season, before the cancellation of the NAB AFL Under-18s Championships, Hobbs has since gone one better in his top-age campaign.
Named co-captain of the Vic Country group earlier this year, the decision to appoint the naturally mature and grounded Hobbs as one of its skippers was a no-brainer for the coaching staff.
"He's just one of those players that, from an individual point of view, he always wants to improve himself. That's a real attraction among a group environment," Corrigan said.
"He sets the example of what needs to be done to lead. That's not just as a footballer, it's off the field as well. From a leadership point of view, out on the ground, he's a very good talker. He does a lot of it with his actions as well."
Recruiters see Joel Selwood in Hobbs' game. It's why he has shot into top-10 calculations leading into the conclusion of the season. But it's former Port Adelaide skipper Travis Boak who he models his performances around.
Hobbs frequently watches clips of Boak's clearance work, takes learnings from the veteran's scoreboard impact, and notes the versatility that has allowed him to play at the highest level for 15 years and counting.
Clubs think Hobbs will follow a similar path. According to one scout, he has "250-game player written all over him". A fortnight spent training with Collingwood last summer has only steeled his resolve to make that ambition come to life.
"The main learning from that was just that even if you get drafted, that's not the end. That's when the hard work begins," Hobbs said.
"Just observing Scott Pendlebury, Taylor Adams and players like that, players that work on their game from the morning right until everyone leaves … they're normally the last ones to leave the club.
"You know all about the hard work that comes into it once you are in an AFL environment."
An ankle injury sustained in April had threatened to frustrate the motivated youngster, who spent close to six weeks on the sidelines. It coincided with yet more Victorian lockdowns and concerns over whether he would return to the field at all this year.
But if there were doubts that lingered throughout that period, the way he attacked his rehab didn't show it. His return in June was celebrated with 34 disposals, nine tackles and two goals against the Murray Bushrangers.
"Coming back from his injury earlier this year, the way he recovered … he just looks at all of the finer details of his game and does them really well," Corrigan said.
The same drive that has fuelled Hobbs' success both on the golf course, and on the footy field, won't dissipate any time soon. If anything, it will only grow even further as this year's draft edges closer.
"I just want to show that I've come back from the injury and I've played some good footy. I obviously just want to keep improving. I want to keep trying to build my game and not be satisfied with anything," Hobbs said.
"That's the main thing I'm thinking about. I definitely had this expectation on myself to come back and play good footy. I've still got a lot of improvement to go, but I'm really happy with how things are going at the moment."