Five students from Carey Grammar have been drafted to the AFL, the the biggest number from any Victorian school. From left to right are Kristian Jaksch, Jackson Macrae, Jason Ashby, Jack Viney and Nathan Hrovat. Photo: Mal Fairclough
Carey Baptist Grammar School has produced a swag of AFL footballers, but it hopes the players will do more than rest on their sporting laurels.
Five of its players were recruited by AFL clubs in last week's draft. These graduates played football throughout year 12, but activities director Peter Robson said schoolwork remained the priority. "Our main focus is academic," he said. "We try to keep the kids' feet on the ground in terms of their life balance."
The Western Bulldogs drafted Carey students Jackson Macrae and Nathan Hrovat. Melbourne took Jack Viney, son of club great Todd Viney. Kristian Jaksch will move to Greater Western Sydney while Essendon signed Jason Ashby.
Mr Robson said the school shared a sense of success with its elite athletes. "It's a community and that's what we encourage," he said. "We share when there's grief. We share when there's celebration."
Victoria University history Professor Robert Pascoe, who specialises in AFL, said playing high-level sport helped to improve some students' self-esteem. But some schools also recruited talented footballers in the hope they would return to play for their old boys' clubs, which compete in amateur competitions.
"The amateurs serve as a school's attempt to build its alumni base," Professor Pascoe said.
Some elite schools used football to encourage loyalty among former students so they would then send their children to the school, he said. "That's much stronger here in Victoria than other states in Australia," he said. "Schools are part of our culture, and because AFL is linked to schools, that's why AFL is so strong in Victoria."
St Patrick's College in Ballarat also produced five students who were selected to play AFL – its best result so far.
Three boys were picked up in Thursday's draft. Another two students were selected earlier this year to play AFL.
The school will have 18 former students on senior club lists next year, including North Melbourne forward Drew Petrie.
St Patrick's First XVIII coach Howard Clark said the school aimed for its old boys' club to rise from C-grade to A-grade in the Victorian Amateur Football Association. He said an A-grade team could provide a pathway for St Patrick's students to the AFL.
This year, Xavier College, which has produced many AFL players, celebrated as former student Jobe Watson won the Brownlow Medal. However, none of its students were drafted last week.
Sport director Cam Matthews said AFL success was a "major talking point" for the school community and good for its reputation. "But more important than that it's great for the old boys getting those accolades," he said.
He believed some independent schools monitored suburban football competitions and attempted to lure promising teenage players.
But he said Xavier sought to develop its own students rather than attract outsiders. "We're not judging our program on premierships," he said.
AFL spokesman Patrick Keane said parents, families and suburban clubs also played key roles in developing young footballers.
"For every player we get drafted, there's a huge number of people that they have to thank along the way, and schools are a very important part of that," he said.