By Nick Creely
Ex-Noble Park listed player and Beaconsfield boy Jake Aarts has never left a stone unturned in his pursuit to make it to the highest level.
From Holm Park, to the VFL, and now to the AFL, the tenacious small forward with an infectious energy has certainly done it the hard way – making his AFL debut in Round 5 for Richmond all the more memorable.
It was only fitting that the 25-year-old was able to share his debut experience with two-time premiership Tiger Kane Lambert (100 games), another footballer who never gave up on his AFL dream, despite the obstacles that were seemingly in his way.
As the Tigers saluted a much-needed victory against Melbourne on Sunday as they prepare to enter the Queensland hub for at least the next month, Aarts ventured off an empty MCG with Lambert after a workmanlike performance – almost fitting for a man who’s given so much to chase his dream, and chase his opponents into the ground on a weekly basis.
Aarts previously told Star News in 2018 that his playing style of running, chasing and tackling hasn’t changed since his early days.
“The way I play my footy, it’s not really changed since my junior days,” he said.
“I love bringing energy and tackling, and you’ve got to defend as well, it’s not all offense, and being a small forward at Richmond, they need that in our team defence.
“It helps the midfield and backline with our forward pressure, so that’s what we work on.
“Nothing’s really changed for me, it’s just how I play.”
That was certainly the case in an impressive debut showing.
Aarts’ debut was almost a carbon-copy of his playing style – tenacious, energetic, composed and hungry for the football – traits that will hold him in good stead as he looks to keep his spot in the reigning premiers’ line-up in the months ahead.
Against the Dees, the small-forward was buzzing, registering 15 disposals and very nearly a freakish maiden goal, three score involvements, a handful of tackles and plenty of pressure acts as the side won by 27 points.
For the Eagles-product who last played a game for his local club in 2017 and was listed by Eastern powerhouse Noble Park prior to being rookie-listed by the Tigers after six solid seasons of state-league football for Bendigo Gold and eventually Richmond’s VFL side, it was a dream come true in what has been one incredible journey.
“Once Dimma announced it (his debut), I was a bit speechless, I was just trying to get my thoughts around it,“ he told Richmond FC media prior to the game.
“it was good to just enjoy that moment with them, but after that I was able to settle and get into training.
“I’ve been in the squad a few times, and for whatever reason I haven’t got in.“
Aarts praised the impact of an ex-St Kilda star, Beaconsfield coach and Bendigo Gold coach for his inspiration to push forward with his football.
“I started back at Beacy playing senior footy there, and my coach and one of my mentors Aussie Jones, he’s a good mate of mine, and he got the coaching role down at Bendigo,“ he said.
“Between him and all the boys, I didn’t really get a choice, they pushed me to go do it – so I played down there for two years, and unfortunately the club went under, so I was fortunate enough to be on the radar of Richmond VFL.“
And playing for the Tigers, the club he grew up supporting and one that has had a strong history with the Beaconsfield Football Club, Aarts continued to bang down the door, juggling work with VFL football commitments despite the struggles and moments of doubt within himself.
“Growing up, I was a Richmond supporter, so it was really a no-brainer coming here,“ he said.
I was playing VFL for about five or six years, and while I was still working as a chippy – I didn’t think I was going to continue, I got to my fourth year, and was really questioning what I was doing.
“It was really hard work, but something kept me going – I spoke to a lot of people about what I was doing, and my gut-feeling was keeping me playing at the highest level I could, but for some reason I knew I wasn’t too far away.“
The Tigers took on Sydney at the Gabba on Sunday at 3.35pm in the first game the club will play in the Queensland hub.