Hard to catch: North Ballarat's Dean Towers has come from relative obscurity to be a draft chance on Thursday.
UNLIKE many AFL aspirants, North Ballarat's Dean Towers has seemingly had his AFL dream fall in his lap.
He had only last year made it his goal to make the top level. It now appears that he could land as a second- or third-round draft choice in Thursday's national AFL draft as a 22-year-old.
Towers spent his junior years in Kawarren, outside Colac, juggling several sports including tennis, soccer and mixed netball. Football was just another sport to him. He was playing with Otway Districts while other youngsters were playing elite football in the TAC Cup. His closest affiliate, the Geelong Falcons, did not invited him to train with them. He also played in the Geelong Football League with Colac in 2010, finishing fourth in the club best and fairest.
''Definitely as a junior I didn't want to pigeonhole myself as a footballer,'' Towers said.
''I played footy, but I also played tennis, mixed netball and soccer. I was always playing a sport somewhere. I wouldn't say that I wasn't dedicated to playing footy, it was just that I was dedicated to playing other sports as well.
''I was looking at pro tennis and pro soccer and pro anything.''
Towers lived next door to his former Colac coach Tim Pekin, the one-time Fitzroy and St Kilda player, who has been a valuable mentor for him.
But it was his move to Ballarat, where he studied PE teaching and played for North Ballarat, that was a life-changing one.
He was told that he had the makings of a ready-made AFL player in his first season in 2011 and confirmed that view this season.
Recruiters recognised key strengths - his speed on a wing and half-back and his vertical jump - where he broke former Hawk Trent Croad's record at the AFL draft Combine with 85 centimetres.
He took out the Fothergill-Round Medal for the VFL's most promising young talent.
''They [the coaches] just told me that I had to do what I did last year in the development squad but do it at senior level and I managed to do it,'' he said.
North Ballarat coach Gerard FitzGerald, who already moulded the likes of Orren Stephenson (ex-Geelong), Stephen Clifton (GWS) and Cameron Richardson (ex-North) into ready-made players in recent years, believes Towers is a ''student of the game''.
''He's very, very quick. He's an outstanding young man, a high-quality character, extremely coachable. He accepts feedback readily and actions his feedback. He looks for what he needs to do to improve and gets on with doing it,'' FitzGerald said.
''Particularly his ability to win the ball and run with it and we've also been pleased with his ability to work hard without the ball.''
Towers is proof that you don't have to necessarily dominate a league to attract attention. It is perhaps his qualities as a person as well as a player that have got him this far.
He was interviewed by six AFL clubs after the draft camp.
''I'm not afraid to travel, I've been living away from home for three years now,'' he said.
With rookie lists being cut for next season, it is likely that more state league players will be looked at being taken in the national draft rather than as a rookie. The AFL has reduced clubs' rookie lists from six to four.
Other ready-made VFL players in the mix for late picks in Thursday's draft include Frankston's Leigh Osborne, Khan Haretuku and Kyle Martin, Northern Blues midfielder Adam Marcon, Werribee's Ben Ross and Kyle Hartigan, Sandringham's Myke Cook and Adam Cockie and Box Hill's Luke Andrews.