Haileyburian on the surge

One of Olli Hotton's traits are his clean hands. Picture: JONTY RALPHSMITH

By Jonty Ralphsmith

Some will call it destiny, others will label him lucky.

However it is viewed, Olli Hotton was fortunate to be given an opportunity to play for Vic Metro in the NAB AFL under 18 championships.

The Hampton resident found out only two days prior to the trial match which would finalise the squad that he would be included in the match at Avalon Airport Oval in Werribee.

Put another way, he was on the fringes of being on the fringes of selection for the squad.

A month later and he has arguably been the surprise packet for Vic Metro, bringing trademark explosiveness and cleanliness as a midfielder and adapting to a new forward role with aplomb.

“I wasn’t really nervous – because I was a late ‘in’, I thought every opportunity is more opportunity than I was going to get a week ago,” Hotton said.

“I kept the same mentality – prove what I can do each game and I’ve been growing in confidence as I’ve shown I’m at the level.”

In game one, the Sandringham Dragon scored two goals, playing the whole game in attack as he established form and confidence at the level.

The following two weeks he split his time between the forward line and midfield, with his third game the standout as he gathered 24 touches and three goals.

“I didn’t expect it at all,” Hotton said of his recent form.

“I was hoping to get there, but after my pretty bad form at the start of the year for Dragons, I wasn’t sure I could get to the level.”

As revealed by Star Journal in June, school coach Matthew Lloyd labelled him a top-five midfielder in the Association Private Schools (APS) competition ahead of the season.

He showed that form consistently stacks up against the best throughout the carnival games, according to Davenport.

“Olli’s given us great flexibility – he has showed that physically he is ore than up to it as an inside mid and I’m not even sure if I’ve seen him fumble yet, he’s super-clean with his hands and really powerful with his ability to bring his teammates into the game and drive his legs,” Davenport said.

“He looked at me a bit sideways when I said I was going to move him forward (in the second half of the third game against SA) because he was playing his role really well as an inside mid but we identified an opportunity to add to our smalls ahead of the ball and his ability to apply himself to a role and value that above the individual accolades of being on-ball and your stats being inflated was a credit,” Davenport said.

Now AFL clubs have come knocking, with Hotton having had two interviews with clubs – but he could hardly have had a less ideal preparation for the breakthrough carnival.

Between lockdowns and an ankle injury, Hotton hardly got on the park in 2021, denying him the likely prospect of representing Vic Metro at the under 17s national carnival.

Then an injury-interrupted preseason – and in-season Covid-19 diagnosis – contributed to a quiet start to the NAB League season.

In his first three games for Sandringham, Hotton averaged just over 10 disposals, and was missing his usual flare as he felt underprepared for the season.

An overzealous gym program heading into the year was another factor, hindering Hotton’s ability to cover the ground.

It was how the midfielder remedied the situation which catalysed his form spark.

“I started using Monday recovery sessions to do extra running and catch up what I missed in preseason,” he explained.

“When everyone was getting (to training) early and chatting, I was using that time to do some five kilometre running blocks and then some intense one (kilometre runs) more recently before recovery.”

Hotton has an excellent athletic profile to supplement his increasing endurance – a 75 centimetre standing vertical jump and 2.89 second 20-metre sprint from were the best at his NAB League club.

Although Hotton is reluctant to boast, those who saw him at school footy said he played himself into some form – which led to his Vic Metro opportunity – and he relished the opportunity to be a leader around the team.

The fast ascent has seen an influx of attention around the 17-year-old, which he doesn’t shy away from.

Hotton was recently ranked the 17th best prospect by respected Rookie Me draft analyst Ed Pascoe.

“I follow all the accounts, it comes up in my feed and I enjoy it,” he said.

“It’s a bit surreal seeing myself in it though – until two weeks ago, I hadn’t seen my name anywhere.

“I’m conscious of not letting it get to my head – I’m seeing it but I’m not sharing it everywhere.”

One of the confidants that grounds him is father, Trent, who played 78 games across Collingwood and Carlton – not enough to qualify Olli as a father-son prospect.

As much as celebrating successes, Trent has always had an eye on takeaways for improvement with each game his son plays, ensuring he does not get too far ahead of himself.

Olli credits his dad, a marking forward, for his overhead ability that he has shown in spurts this season and Trent used his experience to enrich Olli’s understanding of where to place inside-50 kicks.

More recently, Trent helped his son develop forward craft, with Olli having spent most of his junior career as a midfielder.

“As a kid he hasn’t played as a forward really at all, so he was struggling a little bit with the nuances and I didn’t play forward until I got to the AFL so I know it is a steep learning curve,” Trent said.

“He has pretty good retention of the game and where he is at, so it was more about talking about his game, or watching others playing out on the field and seeing where their patterns were.

“His younger brother Taj would play and we would go and watch him, and see what was good and what was bad – it was more listening to him talking through the things that worked and what didn’t work, rather than me telling him this is exactly how it should be, so he could learn.”

Next on the agenda for the youngster is Haileybury footy, before more NAB League games later in the season and one more game for Vic Metro.

“I’ve been getting mid-20s and been powerful, doing stuff with it, but I want to go back and do it for four quarters,” Hotton said.

“Constant 30s, hitting the scoreboard and showing my improved tank would be nice.”