AT MELBOURNE's season launch in March, co-captain Nathan Jones nominated first-year small forward Dion Johnstone as one to watch out for in 2017.
Jones had seen Johnstone, pick No.64 in last year's NAB AFL Draft, walk into his first AFL pre-season and try his darnedest to match it physically with seasoned teammates.
Nicknamed 'Neon', Johnstone is a skillful boxer and he certainly packed a punch when he wrapped teammates up in tackles, surprising a few at the club with the impact he made across half-forward in match simulation drills over summer.
The Demons were impressed with his attitude and gave him an opportunity to appear in a JLT Community Series game against Carlton at Casey Fields in February, which he counts as "one of the best days of my life".
Five months down the track, Johnstone is yet to appear at senior level thus far, although he was an emergency for the round 15 game against Sydney.
As with most first-year players, Johnstone's development has been steady and he believes he will be well prepared to push for an AFL berth next year if an unlikely debut does not come his way this season.
"Hopefully one day the dream will come true of running out on the 'G. If not this year, I'll just keep sticking at it and hopefully it happens next year," Johnstone told AFL.com.au.
Johnstone, who hails from the Gunditjmara tribe in Warrnambool in south-west Victoria, joined Scotch College on an indigenous scholarship (the same one that saw Cyril Rioli move from the Tiwi Islands to complete his schooling at Scotch) and captained the football team to the APS title.
Johnstone earned a reputation as a lively forward while playing for the Oakleigh Chargers in the TAC Cup last year, booting 21 goals in 11 matches.
The 19-year-old is averaging 11.5 disposals from 13 VFL games this season, but has excelled with his pressure on the opposition averaging six tackles (including a season-high 13 against Richmond a fortnight ago).
Johnstone has booted just three goals from his 13 games, playing as high-half forward and through the midfield, but is confident he can increase that tally once he has more experience playing at the level.
Demons development coach Max Rooke has worked closely with Johnstone on finding ways to improve his disposal output while also impacting contests when the footy is in his area.
Learning the AFL structures and running patterns remains a work in progress, but Rooke and the rest of the Demons' coaching staff have been impressed with Johnstone's toughness and willingness to put the opposition under the pump.
"It's about raising all my actions on the field to elite AFL standards. I've just got to keep listening to the feedback from the coaches and improving on those little things," Johnstone said.
As a young indigenous player, Johnstone looks up to Neville Jetta and Jeff Garlett who have both been key mentors in his first season at the club.
Johnstone joined Jetta and fellow indigenous player Jay Kennedy-Harris (Garlett was in Perth for family reasons) for a launch of Melbourne's Reconciliation Action Plan last week.
Former Melbourne players Aaron Davey, Liam Jurrah and Austin Wonaeamirri were part of a discussion panel detailing their experiences as indigenous players at the club.
"It was massive to hear about their journeys, where they've come from and where the (RAP) program is now," Johnstone said.
"Everyone's been really welcoming since I've arrived and I'm really excited to be a part of it."
Dion Johnstone tackles Collingwood's Chris Mayne in the VFL. Picture: AFL Photos