By Ben Pollard
Jason Blake has been known as one of the AFL’s warriors for a long time now.
Throughout 212 games with St Kilda – including three Grand Finals – the reliable 31-year-old has performed the role of ‘Mr Fix-it’, generally plugging holes in the Saints’ defence or ruck division.
Despite being the longest-serving player to have never polled a Brownlow vote, Jason’s consistency over 13 years in the AFL is widely respected.
However, his career almost never took off.
As a Beaumaris junior, Jason had a lot of team and individual success, but during the selection process for the (then) Prahran Dragons Under 16 squad he found himself at the back of the pack.
“Early on, I wasn’t going to be picked… I know I was one of the last guys to be selected, so that was a challenge just to get on that list,” he says.
According to Jason, scraping into the squad was one of the key moments that helped shape the AFL player he is now.
“I don’t ever take my position – where I’m at in the AFL – for granted, and it probably stems from those days when I really had to compete and bite and scratch and do everything I could just to make the cut,” he says.
“I think I’ve taken that with me throughout my career and made sure I maximised every opportunity that was presented to me.”
Indeed, Jason says competitiveness was his strongest trait in junior football.
Once he made the cut for the Dragons squad, that passion for footy drove Jason to honestly assess his weaknesses and improve on them.
“My skills probably weren’t as good as they should’ve been and that was what I lacked back then,” he says.
“But it was my competitiveness and my ability to compete that was first and foremost, and everything else kind of grew from that.
“It really drove me to improve my skills and my football knowledge.”
The Dragons system definitely tested those traits.
After playing the majority of his games with Beaumaris as a ruckman, Jason was developed as a defender at the Dragons.
Working on his weaknesses through his years in the TAC Cup program led to Jason being drafted as a defender with St Kilda’s pick 24 in the 1999 national draft.
It was a victory for perseverance.
Jason’s fondest memory of playing for Beaumaris is sharing strong friendships and success – four premierships in a row, no less – with his teammates.
But even if today’s SMJFL players do not experience such success, he has some simple advice for those who want to achieve their AFL dream: always persist.
“Really give it your best shot, never give up and really take that dream, because anything can happen.”
Jason Blake’s long and successful career at football’s highest level is proof of that.