Cobden's Rhys Unwin is embracing opportunities and experiences presented to him as he pursues his AFL draft dream.
The 17-year-old has earned another feather to his cap, announced as part of Vic Country's upcoming summer training squad.
Unwin is one of three Hampden league players listed in the squad, alongside Cobden's Flynn Penry and Koroit's Finn O'Sullivan.
"It's definitely something I'd love to do (play AFL), it's been a dream since I was a kid," Unwin told The Standard.
"For it to sort of be in reach this (coming) year is a pretty special feeling."
The 23-player Vic Country summer squad will take part in two high performance training camps - the first at Essendon's The Hanger training facilities on December 18-19 and the second at Ballarat's Federation University on January 21-23 - before trial matches begin in April for a spot in next year's AFL under 18 national championships team.
Unwin, who represented Vic Country in an under 17 futures match in 2023, hopes to translate lessons learnt this year when putting himself forward for under 18 selection.
"It's probably something I've been hoping to do for a long time... but until it actually happens you don't really believe it's happening," he said of representative honours.
"When you see it come out and actually released, you take a step back and take it all in.
"It's something I'll look forward to and try and learn as much as I can in that environment and try take it all in."
Unwin enjoyed a breakout Coates Talent League season with GWV Rebels as a bottom-age player, featuring in 14 of a possible 15 games.
A dynamic small forward option, he kicked 18 goals, including a season-high four goals in round 15.
"A bit early on I probably didn't know what to expect and then Deeks (Rebels boys coach David Loader) gave me a game round one, he had a lot of faith in me and I sort of grew in confidence every week," Unwin said.
"The more games I was playing, I was getting better and better."
The Mercy Regional College student is ready to attack pre-season training sessions for the Rebels with their first session held at Warrnambool's Davidson Oval on November 20.
"It's good to be back into it, especially down at Warrnambool with a lot of the boys," he said. "I've been in the system for a lot longer now so I'm more relaxed and a bit more confident."
Stepping up as a leader within the playing group is a focus of Unwin's this summer.
"I'll probably try work on being a bit more of a leader this year and not being afraid to use my voice on the training track, or in games to come, or giving a bit of advice to anyone whose going through the same thing I was," he said.
He's been inspired watching four of his Rebels teammates, including South Warrnambool's George Stevens and Luamon Lual, lead the group in 2023 before getting drafted to AFL clubs.
"It was pretty special to see them all get picked on draft night," Unwin said. "They were all pretty good leaders and they all lead differently to each other - (Ballarat's) Lachie (Charleson) was all pretty chirpy on the field and then Luamon didn't have much to say but when he did it was pretty good advice.
"I'll probably take a bit from each one of them."
As Unwin's journey towards the 2024 AFL draft picks up speed, he is soaking up little moments along the way, including the chance to train alongside several of his club and school mates, such as Ben McGlade, Jonty Robertson, Archie Taylor and Myles Sinnott, with the Rebels.
"They're all up training in Warrnambool too, they all go to school with me, that's pretty cool... just being with my mates from my hometown that's something I'm soaking up at the moment," he said.
"Trainings are a lot more fun and something a bit different."