AN experienced educator who has watched one of his students prosper into an AFL draft prospect believes the teenager is one out of the box.
Warrnambool College teacher Robert Dart expects the club which takes a punt on South Warrnambool midfielder Jay Rantall to reap the rewards.
Dart, who has worked at the school for 14 years, first came across Rantall six years ago when he started year seven.
He has watched a shy kid evolve into an Australian junior basketballer, draft bolter and model student.
Rantall asked mad Geelong fan Dart to be a referee for AFL clubs ringing around to find out more about the inside midfielder with ball-winning ability and huge aerobic capacity.
Dart, who does not have a football background, said Rantall was "quite exceptional" and boasted traits which separated him from the athlete stereotypes.
"I was talking to one club and they said 'you know you don't have to sugarcoat everything?'," he told The Standard.
"And I said 'I'm actually not. If you're looking for criticisms there are none, I'd have to dig quite deep, this kid is quite exceptional'.
"Now I am on the front-foot and say 'it's going to sound like I am over-the-top positive but this is who he is and who he has decided to be'."
Rantall has built the right to big-note. His achievements are long and varied.
He represented Australia at the basketball under 17 world cup in Argentina in 2018.
He then swapped his basketball jersey for football guernseys and collected many, playing for South Warrnambool, Greater Western Victoria Rebels and Vic Country, in a whirlwind 2019.
The Rebels crowned him their best and fairest, the NAB League picked him in its team of the year and at the draft combine he set a 2km time-trial record.
But Rantall is not one to boast. Humility is a character trait.
"He has a great sense of humour and he's friendly but he's not one to draw attention to himself," Dart said.
"He's hugely appreciative of any time or effort you make for him or put into him.
"You go up and congratulate him face-to-face and he thanks you and is so grateful for the recognition but if I was to say that at the house assembly in front of 200 kids he'd hate that."
Dart said Rantall's ability and want to juggle sport and school also set him apart.
The 18-year-old made a concerted effort to complete VCE to the best of his ability, sitting exams for English, further maths, outdoor education, PE and biology.
"He is such a hard worker and he's recognised that his academics were important as part of becoming a high-level athlete and in terms of developing that sense of character," Dart said.
"He's put a lot of work in. He hasn't just focused on his footy and let school go. It's almost like it's more important because if he can balance both it shows he is the better athlete because he can do school first and keep everything in check."
Rantall, who paid tribute to Warrnambool College's Sporting Pathway Program, said his parents Tim and Lia instilled the importance of school-sport balance.
"I put as much effort into my schooling as my footy," he told The Standard.
"You never know what could happen with an AFL career, even if you were able to achieve greatness it's 10 or 15 years max so you need a plan B or an afterlife so I definitely put a lot of pride and work into my VCE studies."
Sport has played a significant role in Rantall's life from an early age.
And it was always a juggling act between football and basketball.
Basketball took priority for a period, taking him to the international level as a dangerous shooting guard.
He suited up for his Big V home club Warrnambool Seahawks when Australian commitments permitted last year.
Seahawks coach Tim Gainey knew Rantall was something special.
"He is probably the best shooter we've had in Warrnambool for a while but he practices it," he said.
"He is a competitor, so there was no doubt in my mind he was going to be successful at something.
"He hates losing, even if it's a sprint or a shooting drill.
"He is actually really quiet but from a training stand point once he starts he's hard at it.
"He would pass out before he stops. He always wanted to improve in whatever he did.
"If he missed a few shots the next day he'd shoot over 100 shots because he wasn't happy with himself. He always wants to get better."
Even now, on the eve of the draft, Rantall is working to improve.
He followed his mum Lia to Rudy's Boxing in October and the decision has paid dividends.
"I go to a few sessions with her. I had to catch up to her, she was quite good," Rantall said.
He first jumped in Rodney 'Rudy' Ryan's boxing ring prior to the draft combine, desperate to present at the fitness testing in peak condition.
"My legs were so sore because the season had just finished," Rantall said.
"I'd never really done boxing before but 'Rude' is great and really looks after me and a few footy players who go down there.
"It's good to have a real cardio session that doesn't really affect the legs. It's always good to go down there for 45 minutes to an hour and let Rude just dominate you for that session.
"It's something that after combine I loved so much that I wanted to implement into my pre, pre-season program. I am trying to get down there two or three times a week."
The combine, where he broke the 2km time-trial record and was equal-second in the tough yo-yo endurance test, was the finale to a breakout season for Rantall.
"I don't think there was a set point where I picked footy over basketball," he said.
"There was a point in the pre-season where I just wanted to do a lot of work and put time and effort into my running and it would just benefit whatever I chose.
"I like to set some individual goals and that really helped motivate me throughout the year and then the opportunities came.
"I got more and more in love with footy. I love footy."
The turning point was in late 2018 when he was picked to make his Hampden league senior debut for South Warrnambool.
"I remember the only thing I didn't want it to be was raining and it was raining," Rantall said.
"It was pretty cool because I always missed a lot of footy during the years (because of basketball) and I reckon it was the first or second time I'd played on the Reid and the Reid Oval in Warrnambool is hyped up to be the best ground or the ground you want to play on at the end of the year."
Greater Western Victoria Rebels liked what they saw.
The 184-centimetre midfielder earned a spot on their 2019 list and averaged 25 disposals and seven tackles in 12 matches.
"I think my first four or five games I couldn't run out a game without cramping," he recalled.
"It took me a while to get my legs back and figure out what sort of foods and whatnot were going to stop me cramping.
"You definitely run a lot more than you do in a basketball game."
Rantall has remained grounded despite his meteoric rise.
"I guess I am very thankful. It all happened pretty quickly but I know I've put the hard work in," he said.
"I have had a lot of support and help along the way. It was a very humbling experience to do some of the stuff I wanted to do."
The teenager's journey has come as no surprise to Dart and Gainey.
"One of the things that makes him exceptional is that he isn't drawn to the spotlight," Dart said.
"He is an awesome, positive role model for younger students as well as younger athletes and we hope he goes really well in the draft because he's earned it."
Gainey expects Rantall to be a coach's dream.
"He just takes everything on board and remembers it and he applies it," he said.
"He has come out of nowhere this year, coming from not even on the draft board to breaking records.
"That just shows how hard he works."
The AFL is now within reach but Rantall will carry memories from his junior career - four premierships with South Warrnambool and squad titles with Warrnambool Seahawks - with him for life.
"He has a really good friendship group," Dart said.
"His friendship group are friends with him because he is Jay not because he's Jay the athlete or Jay the FIBA world cup basketballer."
Or soon-to-be Jay the AFL footballer.
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