LIFE has changed pretty dramatically for James Blanck. This time last month he was covered in dirt landscaping backyards in the eastern suburbs during the week, before running around for Box Hill in front of a few hundred people on the weekend. Last Friday night he went to work at Marvel Stadium. 

The 21-year-old became the fourth player from the 2022 NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft to get a game at AFL level when he faced the Western Bulldogs, joining Essendon half-back Massimo D'Ambrosio, Port Adelaide ruckman Brynn Teakle and Carlton key defender Sam Durdin, after being selected with pick No.20 on June 1. 

With Sam Frost sidelined with a knee injury, Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell turned to Blanck in favour of Denver Grainger-Barras and Kyle Hartigan to partner James Sicily against a forward line containing Aaron Naughton, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Josh Schache.

James Blanck in action during the R15 clash between Hawthorn and Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium on June 24, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

The 195cm backman didn't look out of place under the bright lights of Friday night football in the 42-point loss, completing a stellar rise for a player who struggled to get a game at VFL level last year. 

Blanck spent more time playing for local side Park Orchards under former Carlton midfielder Dennis Armfield than for Box Hill during another season impacted by the pandemic, but quickly turned heads over the pre-season when he added seven kilograms to his frame and shaved 30 seconds off his 2km time trial.

"It really was a dream come true. It's something I've been striving for since I was a little tacker. I love footy. To get on a list and three weeks after that be playing on a Friday night at Marvel was just crazy. I'm so grateful for the opportunity," Blanck told AFL.com.au.

James Blanck poses with his family ahead of his debut game against Western Bulldogs in round 15, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

"It obviously plays on your mind after a few years of not getting drafted. Last year I was in some pretty average form at VFL level, so it has been a pretty big journey to get to where I am now. That makes it so much more special to me. 

"They had some big names in that forward line, but at the end of the day, it's just footy, you've got to back yourself, back that I know what I'm doing. I went in with confidence. Obviously I've got a bit to work on still, but I didn't feel too far off it which was pretty cool."

Unlike every other mid-season recruit other than Will Hayes, who was provided an AFL lifeline by Carlton after playing for its reserves, Blanck had the advantage of knowing almost everyone at Waverley Park before his name was read out. 

He trained with the AFL program over the summer – he wasn't eligible during the pre-season supplemental selection period due to not nominating for last year's NAB AFL Draft – and was under their nose at different times across the first half of the season.

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Blanck was one of four Box Hill products in the 22 in round 15, joining Jai Newcombe, Lachie Bramble and Ned Reeves in a game that underlined the profitable alignment between the two programs, which has now produced 16 players for Hawthorn since Mitchell became the first in 2001. 

"It helps a lot that he was a coach of mine for a year," Blanck said. "Coming into the program and knowing a lot of players and having a relationship with the coach was really helpful. He is amazing the way he goes about it and the way he connects with players, his outlook on the game is pretty special. So lucky to have that prior relationship with him.

"I trained with Hawthorn throughout the pre-season period and Box Hill also allowed a few players throughout the season to train with the main team, so I've been around Hawthorn for the last seven or eight months. 

"I already know the systems and Box Hill plays the same way as the Hawks so I think Sam Mitchell was pretty confident that I could come in and play the way the Hawks like to play. I'd been in some reasonable form at VFL level."

James Blanck poses for a photo for Box Hill Hawks. Picture: Box Hill Hawks

Despite a handful of clubs in the market for a key defender ahead of the mid-season draft, Blanck didn't attract too much attention. Hawthorn needed a ruckman and added one in Max Ramsden, before circling back for the guy in the VFL program who was proving too good to be playing at that level. 

Now that the Whitefriars product has had a taste of League football, he will be doing his best to maintain his spot in Hawthorn's back six for as long as possible. 

"That's the goal," he said. "There are a few players coming back from injury over the remainder of the season, but I'll be doing everything I can to keep my spot. After Friday night's game I really got a feel for it, so I'll be striving to play as many games as I can."