Richmond small forward Jake Aarts earned some long-awaited recognition in 2018 for his consistency of performance, producing another Peter Jackson VFL season based on pressure and scoreboard impact.
The 23-year-old was invited to the recent Victorian State Combine following a campaign of 16 matches for the minor premier in which he averaged 13 disposals, four tackles and over one goal and one score assist per game.
180cm Aarts prides himself on harassing opposition defenders and helping the Tigers capitalise on the scoreboard. It’s a role he’s played in many of his 49 games for Richmond after coming to Punt Road in 2015 following 32 VFL appearances for Bendigo Gold in 2013-14.
AFL clubs are now paying attention ahead of the NAB AFL Draft on November 22-23, with 2018 seeing the Beaconsfield (South East FNL) product play the most matches in any of his four seasons with the Tigers and kick the most goals (17) in any of his six years in the VFL.
“I don’t really think I’ve done much different to what I have the last couple of years,” Aarts said at the State Combine. “My numbers aren’t higher and I don’t feel like I have a massive impact on games, but I feel I do make the most of my opportunities on the field.
“That’s all the team wants me to do; they want me to put pressure on (inside 50) to help our defenders down the line. All we talk about is fulfilling your role as an individual and that helps everyone.
“My mindset has sort of been the same every year since I was a junior – just keep working hard and the rewards will come from that. Now it’s paying off a little bit.”
Aarts set out to play as many VFL games as possible this season after appearing in 13 home-and-away matches last year but missing Richmond’s run to the Grand Final from fifth position. His approach to the 2018 pre-season was evidence of his drive to improve – “I was hungry right from the start”.
Indeed, Aarts sees competitiveness as one of his biggest strengths and hasn’t looked back since Tigers VFL senior coach Craig McRae shifted him from the midfield to the forward line to take advantage of that trait.
“Craig’s been pretty good for me the last few years,” Aarts said. “He got me playing a different role, which suits me and suits him and suits the team.
“I was pretty much a midfielder all the way up until a couple of years ago. Craig brought me back into the side one week to play a defensive role on a half back. I wasn’t trying to get a kick or anything, but I started playing a few of these roles and found the footy a little bit doing it. Eventually it just turned natural.
“It’s been different, but my goal was to play every game and the way to get a game was by playing forward; that’s just how it’s turned out.”
THE AFL DRAFT WATCH ‘FAST FIVE’ with Jake Aarts
Why should an AFL club draft you?
“I am a hard worker, I train hard, play hard and (I’m) a really competitive player.”
What is the funniest or weirdest question you’ve been asked by an AFL club?
“There hasn’t been one yet.”
Who is your football idol?
“Ben Cousins (West Coast/Richmond) back in the day. He worked hard and was a hard and tough player.”
Who will be the first VFL player selected in the 2018 AFL Draft?
“Brett Bewley (Williamstown). He is a good chance of getting picked up first. He is a good size and a good player.”
Which of your 2018 teammates should also be in draft consideration?
“Charlie Thompson played a few games as 23rd player and was stiff to miss out last year. I think if he keeps working at it… if it is not this year, it will be next year (drafted).”