Posted in Front Page News

In 2010 and 2011 Ed Vickers-Willis was plying his trade at East Malvern Junior Football Club under the tutelage of coach Peter Horne. Last month he was named to the U18 All Australian team and Horne wasn’t surprised.

At 190cms Vickers-Willis is the prototypical size for the modern day midfielder, however, according to his junior coach that isn’t his greatest strength – his brain is. Horne describes him as “one of the smartest footballers I’ve seen” and waxes lyrical about his sophisticated understanding of the game.

Despite the fact that he was only 14 and 15 years old when he played under Horne, he was already practicing the intricacies of the game that many footballers don’t learn until much later in their football career. He was a 14 year old who was leading purely to create space for other forwards, or blocking around the stoppages to allow someone else to get the ball.

While some players are tempted to go ball chasing, Vickers-Willis wasn’t one of those players. On game days he would restrict himself as to where he would run because he knew exactly where the team needed him to be.

It’s a rare skillset to see in junior football, particularly being exhibited by a player who could be forgiven for demanding the ball as the best footballer on the ground. He was so good that he would draw double teams but he was also smart enough to then manoeuvre those contests away from the fall of the ball.

“If you didn’t put two players on him he was really going to carve them up but when they did put two on him he would take them out of the play,” said Horne.

“He would lead out of the space for others to run in to – he intuitively knew where we wanted him to lead.”

Another thing that stood out to Horne in his time with Vickers-Willis was the junior’s work ethic. He began the season as one of the side’s best ball users and still took it upon himself to improve his kicking – something Horne said he was successful in achieving.

When Horne invited Hawthorn premiership player, Alan Martello, to speak to the boys before finals, many of the boys took the opportunity to have a laugh and joke with the 255-gamer.

Vickers-Willis was aware that if he wanted to make it to the lofty heights Martello had achieved that it wouldn’t be easy; he asked the ex-Hawk how much work he had to do and what the biggest sacrifice he had to make.

“If you get points for footy smarts, he’d be top 10 [at the draft] easily,” said Horne.

His ability to think one step ahead of the play gives him the look of that oft-coveted player who has all the time in the world. When you combine his mind with his size, it is clear why Horne sees him as a utility that can be useful in almost any position on the ground.

“It wasn’t that he ran faster to the ball or he knocked someone over but he knew where the ball was going to be,” Horne said.

“I’ve never seen him lose his temper… he’s got an extra couple of seconds and in that respect he can probably go forward and you can expect goals. You can also expect good results if you stick him in the backline.”

If you have a cursory glance at this year’s mock drafts and what the pundits have to say then Vickers-Willis will get snapped up in the first two rounds of this year’s National Draft.

Horne isn’t surprised one bit by his progress; he experienced his smarts, size, commitment and work ethic first hand.

“He was the kind of kid that if he wanted to do something, you always knew he would.”

The SMJFL wishes to belatedly congratulate Ed on his selection to the All-Australian team!