Sam Switkowski missed out on being drafted as an 18-year-old despite a stellar TAC Cup season in 2014, but this year became an AFL player after developing himself in the Peter Jackson VFL.
The now-21-year-old small forward won the Northern Knights’ best-and-fairest award and represented Vic Metro at the NAB AFL U18 Championships in his top-age TAC Cup year but didn’t hear his name called at the 2014 NAB AFL Draft.
Switkowski then signed with the Box Hill Hawks, playing five senior games in 2015, 10 in 2016 and 12 in a break-out 2017 campaign, when he booted 19 goals and regularly proved a match-winner in between bouts of illness and injury. He also represented the VFL in May’s State Game against the WAFL.
His performances inspired Fremantle to select the St Mary’s (Yarra Junior FL) and Research (Northern FL) product with pick no.73 in this year’s AFL Draft – something that hardly surprised his coach at Northern in 2014, Andrew Shakespeare.
“I always felt he was an AFL player in a junior boy’s body at the Knights,” said Shakespeare, who led Northern from 2014-16 before becoming Box Hill’s development coach in 2017. “All his key performance areas were first-rate but he had a really underdeveloped body, and the way he played the game took its toll on his body too.
“I felt he could be a little bit reckless in his attack on the football and that resulted in him being banged up, but when he became a bit more mature at Box Hill, he was more calculated in the way he went about his football.
“His ability to stalk the opposition and take some extraordinary marks for a bloke his size (178cm) were still there, and regardless of the stage in a game, Sam always gives everything he has. Those characteristics continued to stand out and eventually someone just couldn’t say ‘no’ to them.”
Shakespeare paid tribute to Switkowski’s decision to develop himself at Box Hill after graduating from the TAC Cup, even though a strong Hawks team had just reached consecutive VFL Grand Finals in 2013-14.
According to Shakespeare, Switkowski’s eventual emergence and subsequent selection by the Dockers – along with the rookie-listing of long-time Box Hill captain David Mirra by Hawthorn this year – is a lesson to all players that miss out at draft time.
“I’ve been in touch with Sam after the drafts every year since 2014 and his reaction was always exactly the same,” Shakespeare said. “He was solely focused on what he had to do and that was to become a better player.
“Not everyone’s got the fortitude to go through three years of disappointment and continue to butter up. It’s just a great story.
“The lessons to any player that misses out on being drafted are: a) Control what you can control, and b) It’s not over until you say it’s over.”