Rowan Marshall thrust his name into AFL draft calculations in the space of 12 months. But the raw-yet-promising Portland teenager knows he's a long-term prospect, writes JUSTINE McCULLAGH-BEASY.
ROWAN Marshall, by his own admission, was "nothing special in under 16s".
He was a capable player but the position he's in now - an AFL draft chance - was something the Portland teenager never envisaged possible when he was overlooked for the North Ballarat Rebels' under 16 program and then as a bottom-age TAC Cup player.
The draft talk is the culmination of a whirlwind 18 months.
Marshall cobbled together eight TAC Cup games in 2013, showing enough promise as a raw, athletic ruckman for the Rebels to take a punt on him as a 19-year-old listed player this season.
He blossomed, as Rebels coach David Loader describes it, from a young colt into a Vic Country ruckman.
"I have always loved the game but I was never that good at it. But one day it all clicked," Marshall said.
"It is weird really."
Marshall was elated when he made North Ballarat's 2013 squad.
And even happier when Loader and Rebels talent manager Phil Partington - one of his biggest mentors - gave him a second chance this year.
"I worked hard over the pre-season and couldn't believe it when I got picked because it was the first squad I'd been in," Marshall said of his 2013 call-up. If 2014 was his breakout season, then 2013 was the prelude.
Marshall joined Portland Tigers for their inaugural Hampden league season from his junior club Heathmere.
He played 12 under 18 games, which included a three-goal haul in a losing grand final, and made two senior appearances in between Rebels commitments.
It was here, decked in the famous yellow and black, that Marshall's potential emerged.
"My confidence grew and I started to grow a bit and understand the game better and it took off from there," he said.
"Last year the main turning point was Tim Chester at Portland as coach and at the Rebels with 'Deeks' (Loader).
"Tim had really good player-coach relationships. He put us through our paces. We improved heaps and ended up making the grand final. It was devastating we lost."
North Ballarat Rebels contacted the 200-centimetre prospect after Christmas to tell him they were interested in selecting him as an over-age player.
Marshall wanted to take his football further and was well aware of the benefits of staying on at Eureka Stadium another season.
Sydney midfielder Jake Lloyd, who played in this year's grand final, and Gold Coast utility Louis Herbert are two of its most recent success stories.
"I was pretty lucky to get a second chance really," Marshall said.
"They (the Rebels) were short of talls this year and they weighed up a decision about who to put on as a 19-year-old.
"I had a choice of living in Portland and training once a week or shifting up (to Ballarat).
"I decided to shift up to give it a red-hot crack."
Marshall, who worked three days a week for Partington at the footy club, toiled diligently during the pre-season, earning a spot in the Rebels' round one team for its match against Geelong Falcons at Camperdown's Leura Oval.
He teamed with Dartmoor tall Korry Smith, a strong-bodied ruckman, that game and showed glimpses.
But from there his form skyrocketed.
He was the match-winner against Murray Bushrangers in June, moving into the forward line in the fourth quarter to kick three important goals, and he recorded 50-plus hit-outs in two consecutive games, against Geelong Falcons and Eastern Ranges, in July.
"I think the main difference this year compared to last year is my ability to read the game better," Marshall said.
"Running patterns getting used to that in the TAC Cup and getting more possessions (because of it).
"Matthew Batistello, the midfield coach at the Rebels, said at the start of the year that was one of the main points I had to work on and we'd both talk to each other after every game and gradually I would keep improving and improving."
Throughout his whirlwind rise Marshall, who graduated from Portland's Bayview College last year, has had his family's support.
His dad Don, mum Jan and brothers Leighton, 16, and Oliver, 13, live on a farm at Bolwarra, a few kilometres out of Portland.
Marshall was born in Taranaki, New Zealand, a town on the North Island.
His family moved to Australia when he was 18 months old and settled in Queensland. Both his brothers were born here .
The family relocated to Victoria when Marshall was three.
Don played rugby union. His oldest son has always preferred Aussies rules .
"Dad was a flanker. He was in the scrums," Marshall said.
"I never saw him play but from what I have heard he was pretty strong, a lot stronger than I am.
"Hopefully I put on weight and fill out. He is six foot two (188cm) but 105kg and I am only 91kg at the moment."
Marshall will watch the national draft on November 27 and, if he misses out, the rookie draft on December 3, with his family.
He's had interviews with seven AFL clubs but is not expecting too much.
"The last few weeks I've been thinking about it more," Marshall said.
"I understand I am a fair chance not to get picked up but if I am not picked up there is always the Roosters (in the VFL) and there's always a chance (to be drafted) down the track because a lot of mature-age ruckmen are picked up.
"Orren Stephenson is the midfield coach at the Roosters next year and he wasn't picked up (by Geelong) until he was 29.
"I probably see myself more as a rookie chance because these days they say ruckmen tend to go in the rookie draft.
"It's every football followers' dream to play AFL and to end up on a list would be amazing.
"If I was lucky enough I'd certainly give it my all."