IT WAS Harry Sheezel's first experience playing at senior level. Then aged 16, Sheezel played three games for his club Ajax in Victoria's amateurs competition last year, having come through its junior program winning best and fairest after best and fairest. On senior debut he booted four goals from full forward against Fitzroy at Brunswick Street Oval, including one goal he admits was "pretty good".
"I had a bit of a day out," he told AFL.com.au. "Playing juniors with Ajax was massive my whole life and it was so much fun to play with people from the community in the senior side as well."
It was also the time when Sheezel, who shapes as a top-10 pick at this year's NAB AFL Draft, started to sense the groundswell of support for his developing football career within the Jewish community, with Ajax based in Melbourne's inner south-eastern suburbs and the country's only Jewish football club.
Sheezel, an exciting forward with plenty of tricks around goal, has the backing of many. Jewish players have historically had low representation in the AFL, with Todd Goldstein (North Melbourne), Ezra Poyas (Richmond and Melbourne) and Julian Kirzner (Essendon, Carlton and North Melbourne) among the small group to have reached the top level.
"There hasn't been as many Jewish footballers lately to make it into the AFL, so it's kind of special to hopefully be the first one [drafted] in a while. Everyone has been so supportive and living it with me, in a sense," Sheezel said.
"I hope to be pretty inspiring for younger kids as well because I feel like the Jewish community is really into sport as well, they love their footy, so hopefully I can inspire a few more kids to hopefully go down the same path.
"Along the way you see how much it means to people in the community. I never really thought of it until I've started to be in the media a little bit more and everyone is all over it now. It's pretty cool. And at school it's kind of new for them, they don't really know how to act and neither do I so I just embrace it."
School is Mount Scopus, one of the country's leading Jewish schools, where Sheezel learnt to speak Hebrew, the Jewish language. Every year the 17-year-old's family takes part in the Jewish traditions and customs, with his grandfather most observant of the religion.
Attending the school, too, has allowed Sheezel more time to play at the Sandringham Dragons in the NAB League, free of any school football ties taking him away from the under-18 competition.
This weekend he will play for the NAB AFL Academy against Collingwood's VFL side, in what is a key part of the elite talent program in its quest to prepare the best players around the country for life as an AFL player.
Already Sheezel has shown he has what it takes. In the first four rounds of the Dragons' season he kicked 13 goals and averaged 20 disposals, including a standout six-goal and 28-disposal effort against Tasmania. "I reckon it would be the best game I've ever played. It kind of just all clicked for me," he said.
He backed it up with five goals for Vic Metro's under-18 side in last week's clash against the overaged Young Guns. A 185cm forward who can mark well overhead, pounce on ground balls and twist and turn around opponents, Sheezel has also taken some of his skills into the midfield. Things happen wherever he is.
"I think my decision-making and execution are probably my main traits. My versatility now has grown to be able to mark in the air and use my agility and be crafty on the ground, and my reading of the play has been [a strength]," he said.
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It has always been that way. As a six-year-old Sheezel got bored of Auskick drills and went to take up soccer, scoring goals and loving the match play. His father Dean saw him return to footy with a greater skillset that continued to build and build, with Sheezel last year putting his name on the map as a likely early draft pick with a standout three-goal game for Vic Metro's under-17s side.
He got a taste of club-land last month when he trained at St Kilda for a week through the AFL Academy, where he nestled into their drills, chatted with Saints stars Jack Steele, Rowan Marshall and Max King and left thinking he would be good enough to do it full-time.
"It was unbelievable. I said after that I wished I could have just stayed there. Living the life of a footballer is the dream and to be able to live it that week makes me want to do it," he said.
Sheezel is a footyhead and has grown up a Hawthorn fanatic. He went to the 2012 Grand Final the Hawks lost to Sydney – "I remember crying after that," he said – but also got to go to each of their 'three-peat' premiership victories that followed. As a younger kid he also had the chance to have a day at Hawthorn and have a kick with Lance Franklin and meet Sam Mitchell – then the Hawks skipper and now their coach.
The Hawks are among the clubs he has met so far this year, but he has no qualms about heading anywhere.
"There's still a long way to go and a lot of important games to be played. I don't want to look too far ahead and just focus on each game and each month at a time, because the last two years has shown us that you just have to be present and do the best you can when you play because the next week and the future isn't guaranteed," he said.
"But I think about the draft every second. My life is oriented around it and footy. Everything I do I try to better myself to put myself in the best position I can."