For any kid growing up looking to be a ruckman in the AFL, Aaron Sandilands was the player you looked up to.
He was the standout for me when I was younger. I loved watching him, how he competed. He was so big but he got around the ground so easily as he was so fit.
Then when I got drafted, not only am I heading to the club that he plays for, I’m told on the phone that I’m going to be living with Aaron for six weeks as I find my feet in Perth.
Being young and drafted as one of the potential ruckmen to take the reins from Aaron one day, I didn’t know what to expect from him.
Knowing that he’s a star of the game and a four-time All Australian, there was a part of me that thought he would have rated himself a little bit.
But as soon as I arrived at his house, I realised he was the complete opposite.
He’s one of the most humble people you’ll ever meet in your life, he’s down to earth and a really good fella.
My first night at his house, he invited all the boys over for a barbeque so we all got to know everyone.
He just opened his house up and his family up to me. He was so welcoming and understanding of the big move coming from interstate.
He said ‘what’s mine is yours’. He had a spare car that he lent me for six weeks and did everything he could to make sure that I was ok.
Any questions that I had, he would sit down with me. He talked me through the whole process of what it was like to play in the AFL. It was the best way to be introduced to the AFL environment.
Aaron is always up for a chat, especially with the young ruckmen at the club.
He’s got lots of time for us and he sits down and understands what it’s like. He doesn’t put any pressure on you with your development, he wants it to be up to you.
But if you go up and ask him, he’ll give you five minutes or have a coffee with you outside of the club to talk through the stresses of life and football.
The most important lessons you can learn off Aaron are not from what he tells you, but from what he shows you.
It’s just how hard he works. In pre-season and off-season, he was in at the club every day working.
In my first year at Freo, we were playing Peel finals and the AFL boys had finished for the year, yet Aaron was in with us every single day no matter what.
He just shows us just how hard you have to work to be an AFL footballer. If you want to understand how he’s managed to keep playing football at 36, this might be the answer.
I wake up some days pretty sore and I just imagine what he’s feeling. It just shows what kind of professional he is, how hard he’s worked, especially being based in WA with the flying and travelling.
On plane trips, he’s always getting up every 20 minutes, he’s always the first up and walking around the plane making sure his legs don’t seize up. It’s just one of the many things he’s shown me.
But what stands out most is his humility. He’s so humble, he’s down to earth, he talks to everyone and nothing is too hard.
I don’t think anyone can replace Aaron. He’s a legend of the game.
But I’m ready and excited for the challenge of what’s ahead, but it’s going to be a bit weird not having him around the footy club anymore.
At any time in the past three years, I’ve known that I could talk to him whenever I wanted to chat about anything. It’s going to be different and a bit hard to get used to.
So thanks big fella for everything you’ve done, not just for me, but for the whole team and the Fremantle family.
You’ve been unbelievable in everything you’ve done your whole career. You’re a champion on the field but you’re an even better family man and a great person off of it.