AFL draft prospect Cameron Mackenzie. Picture: Dylan Burns

WHEN Cam Mackenzie and his family moved to France for a year in 2016, the then 12-year-old Mackenzie made sure to pack his Sherrin. But converting many of his new classmates for a game of kick-to-kick was another matter.

Mackenzie is a potential top-10 pick at this year's NAB AFL Draft but will land at a club via a more travelled path than any other prospect.

"I've been everywhere a bit," he said.

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His dad Rob was born in South Africa and his mum Delia was born in Canada before growing up in South Africa, too. They met whilst both studying at University in England, with Cam born in London.

Cameron Mackenzie in action for Vic Metro against Western Australia at the 2022 U18 Championships. Picture: AFL Photos

They lived there until he was one, before moving to Sydney until he was five then shifting to Melbourne. Then, when he had finished primary school, Mackenzie's parents had an idea for the family, including his siblings Emma, Ashleigh and Rowan, to head to France for a year.

"I didn't believe them at first. The idea came out of nowhere because it wasn't for work or anything. Then Mum and Dad said 'We're thinking of going to France for a year' and I thought they were joking. I was open to it, I thought it would be awesome," Mackenzie told

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"It was a very good experience. It was in a little village in Nice right down in the south. I went to school there not knowing any French at all, and it wasn't a bilingual school, it was a pure French school. The first few months were tough.

"Some of the lunch times you didn't know what to do with yourself. You just couldn't speak to anyone. But getting a new experience of a different culture and learning a new language was pretty cool.

"I took a footy over. We kicked it around the park and kids would look at us like 'What are you doing?' I gave them a bit of a demo and a few had a crack at it, but they threw it and kicked it like a rugby ball."

Mackenzie kept kicking it, though, making sure his skills remained up to scratch half the world away. When his parents suggested they stay for another two years, the kids were keen to get back to Melbourne, with Mackenzie starting high school in 2017.

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Rob being born in South Africa meant Mackenzie was eligible to join St Kilda's Next Generation Academy, with the Saints making contact with him when he was 15, and the club has priority access to him from pick 40 onwards at this year's draft under the system's new rules.

But he is no chance to get there, such has been the quality and quantity of his season. He has averaged 24 disposals for the Sandringham Dragons and in three games for Vic Metro averaged 26, showing he could find the ball, win it, use it and then find it again. He has been likened to Sydney's Callum Mills for his instinctual, tough play and he combines that with skill and a capacity to push forward and hit the scoreboard.

AFL draft prospect Cameron Mackenzie. Picture: Dylan Burns

"You just want to get your hands on the footy and I try to do that as much as I can. If the ball's on the ground I'm not just going to sit there, I'm going to go for it. I love the competitive aspect of the game," Mackenzie said.

He started to gain attention after a pre-season practice match for Sandringham earlier this year, following some advice from his agent Robbie D'Orazio of Connors Sports Management.

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"He spoke about the first four rounds being super important, so I set that as something I really wanted to do and get my name out there early and get a bit on the radar," Mackenzie said.

"After every game I'm getting more confident and it's also just about playing footy again more regularly. We had two years of basically nothing so playing regular footy has helped contribute to my development. Playing consistently against the best in the country definitely helps me think I can compete at this level and hopefully in an AFL environment."

Cameron Mackenzie in action for Vic Metro against South Australia at the 2022 U18 Championships: Picture: AFL Photos

The 18-year-old has spent time with the Saints in recent years and trained with the club for a week in May. But as club interest has grown in Mackenzie, and more recruiters have visited his house or chatted on Zoom, the Saints' hopes to get him as an NGA player have evaporated.

"The goal was just to get drafted. I thought St Kilda would be a good club to go to as it's so close and handy, but I'm not fussed. If I went there it would be awesome, if I didn't I'd still be super happy to go anywhere really," Mackenzie said.

As he has been through his life so far.

And the stint in France is still paying off: Mackenzie is studying the French language this year as he completes year 12 at Brighton Grammar and can still speak it. "It gets a massive ATAR boost so that's another plus from the experience," he said.