James Worpel didn’t only avoid the second-year AFL blues last season, he chased them away with a sledgehammer.
In the process, he became Hawthorn’s youngest best-and-fairest winner since Leigh Matthews – one of the game’s greatest player – won his first at 19 almost half a century ago.
But that’s just the beginning as far as 21-year-old midfield hard-nut Worpel is concerned, as he prepares for the Hawks’ season re-opener against Geelong on June 12.
“It was good to have a good season last year and I’m still a young player in the game, really,” Worpel told AAP.
“I’ve only played 30-odd games and I’m still just trying to learn and feel confident around playing senior footy.
“I’m learning game plans and styles and other teams’ styles … and I’m trying to learn more about the game itself.”
Breaking into Hawthorn’s best 22 in the back half of 2018, Worpel turned heads by winning a celebrated contest with Geelong skipper Joel Selwood in his seventh AFL game.
He stepped into the Hawks’ midfield last year to help fill a temporary void when Brownlow medallist Tom Mitchell was sidelined with a broken leg.
The third-year on-baller now has three distinct focus areas as he attempts to add more layers to his game, and spent time working on them at his mother’s home in Bannockburn during the AFL shutdown period.
“I need a bit more fitness, a bit more confidence and a bit more footy smarts,” Worpel said.
“I’ve always been a bit more developed than most others my age but the main thing I’ve noticed is my fitness capacity has increased.
“I’ve always had a bit of muscle here and there but definitely my running capability has been improving.
“It still needs to improve a lot more in the future but that’s slowly ticking over.”
While a lot has been made of Hawthorn making the trip down to Geelong for the first time since 2006, childhood Cats fan Worpel is relishing the prospect of putting himself to the test at GMHBA Stadium.
“I’ve played there plenty of times, so I’m really excited,” he said.
“The oval and facilities are great and I know a few of the Geelong boys, so to be honest, I can’t wait to get down there, especially under lights.”