Jamarra Ugle-Hagan’s already been dubbed the heir apparent to AFL champion Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin, despite the fact he’s yet to play a game at the top-level.
The 18-year-old key forward’s AFL career will officially commence at next month’s National Draft, where he’s tipped by many to be taken with the first overall pick.
The draft has been 12 years in the making for the prodigious footballer, who honed his craft surrounded by his tight-knit family in the Framlingham Aboriginal Reserve.
He’s looking to become the first Indigenous footballer since Des Headland in 1999 to be taken first in the draft, however it’s a ‘first’ of a different nature that means the most to his community in south-west Victoria.
From little things big things grow
Ugle-Hagan’s one of five brothers born in the south-west Indigenous community on the outskirts of Warrnambool.
He spent his junior years playing football in the local league, before being offered a scholarship to Scotch College in Melbourne where he lived as a boarding resident for his final four years of high school.
The teenager initially grappled with the offer.
It meant focussing his life on football, saying goodbye to his extended family and moving more than three hours away to start his education in the comparative rigidity of the private school system.
In the end, it was an opportunity too good to refuse. And one Ugle-Hagan said changed his life forever.
“Obviously it opens opportunities for my younger cousins and brothers, but it’s also a good achievement to finish school, especially coming from an Indigenous community.
“At the end of the day, yes it’s my dream to play AFL. And if I make it there, it’s obviously going to make my little brothers and cousins look up to me and have that belief they can make it too.”
Ugle-Hagan approaches his schooling with the same easy professionalism as his football.
He knows how important a milestone it is in his community to have an Indigenous male finish high school in a year that’s had more curveballs than most.
Ugle-Hagan returned home amid the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown periods in Melbourne, training with his father and cousins between studying for his VCE.
“This year’s been like a long pre-season for him really, just waiting to play a game,” his father, Aaron Hagan, said.
“He’s as fit as he’s ever been.”
Ugle-Hagan’s name has been thrown around as a ‘potential pick one’ before he was even eligible for the draft, after the forward dominated alongside future top-two picks Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson in 2019.
At 16, he dominated in the Oakleigh Chargers’ Premiership year, kicking 24 goals in nine games.
However the pandemic struck-down any thoughts he had of besting his under-age efforts in 2020.
“It’s been such unique year, half the boys in the pool haven’t played a game,” AFL talent ambassador, Kevin Sheehan said.
The ‘Buddy Franklin’ tag has surrounded Ugle-Hagan for two years now, and it’s an assessment that Sheehan believes is on the mark.
“Jamarra’s a very, very promising athlete. I think he’s got some intangibles you want as a young player getting ready for a professional career as well, and that’s the character side of things,” he said.
“His athletic ability for a start is rare; we measure speed, we measure agility, we measure their vertical jump, and he’s rare in all those categories and we see thousands of kids over a period of time.
It’s a prospect that will have Western Bulldogs fans licking their lips.
Ugle-Hagan’s tied to the Dogs’ ‘Next Generation Academy’, meaning they can use draft points to match any rival club’s bid on the talent and ensure he starts his career at Whitten Oval.
More than just a good footballer
At home in Framlingham, Ugle-Hagan exhibits a maturity well beyond his years.
The pre-draft butterflies have yet to kick-in, and he’s more focused on his role as an emerging leader in Framlingham.
But he doesn’t underestimate the role he can play as a professional athlete.
“It’s my dream to play AFL but I’m thinking of the bigger picture always.
“If I make it and get the career I want, hopefully it changes the opportunities for other boys and girls as well. And not just Indigenous boys, multicultural kids as well, to give them that freedom to have that belief they can make it to the main stage, even if it’s not football, just life in general”
“My family is going to help me through the way, even if the footy doesn’t work out they’re still going to be behind my back and push me to the be the best person I can be.”
The AFL draft will be held online on December 9.