Three students - Jarrod Brander (Yr12 M), Paddy Dow (Yr12 M) and Lochie O'Brien (Yr12 P) - travelled to the United States in January for a high-performance training camp with the AFL Academy. Splitting their time between the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida and UCLA in Los Angeles, the 30-strong group of the country's top prospects were put through a strenuous 10-day programme by the AFL Academy staff, including future AFL Hall of Famers Luke Power and Nick Dal Santo. The trip wasn't all work and no play, however, as the boys were able to tick a trip to Disneyland, as well as attending an NBA and NHL game, off their bucket lists.

"Seeing the Ducks vs the Oilers (NHL) - watching how quick the game is played and how tough they go about it with the hard knocks - was the highlight for me," Paddy said. Paddy was added to the AFL Academy squad in November after impressing in the NAB Under-17 All-Stars game, played on AFL Grand Final morning at Punt Road. While joining a squad that had been selected more than a year earlier so late was daunting, the presence of his school mates really eased his nerves. "Having Jarrod and Lochie - knowing they have been in it for a year - to help me out to meet new people and become familiar with the coaches was a huge help," Paddy said. 

​Left to Right: Paddy, Jarrod and Lochie at the IMG Academy

Lochie appreciated sharing the experience with his close mates from GGS, adding that it's great to now have these shared memories to reminisce about together. Lochie's fondest memories from the trip relate to the IMG Academy and its awe-inspiring Bradenton facility. "We were able to use their Gatorade Sports science facility, where we completed our VO2 max and got testing done while training to measure the salinity levels in our sweat," Lochie said. "At the end we received a detailed document telling us what we are to drink before during and after training."

"I was really taken aback and it opened my eyes to the bigger things that you can become a part of."

Lochie was named one of the best players on the ground in the same Under 17 All Star game which earned Paddy his place in the Academy. Since then his draft stock has continued to rise but Lochie hasn't let it go to his head, stating in an interview with's Callum Twomey that he hopes to study aviation beyond Year 12. He has tailored his VCE subject selection to suit, as the course requires decent marks in English and Maths as pre-requisites. "I also added Geography into the mix - thinking that it wouldn't hurt to get that under my belt - as well as PE to help to get a better understanding when it comes to managing the body and how it all operates in terms of energy systems and basic anatomy for my sport."

Jarrod, like Lochie, is no stranger to AFL draft buzz. A member of the Greater Western Sydney Giants academy, he is expected to be one of the first key position players taken in this year's draft and is already looking forward to testing himself at the next, and final, AFL Academy camp in April. "The next camp is at the start of the season in the Easter holidays, where the AFL academy plays two games against VFL sides," Jarrod explained. Reflecting on the trip to the States, he echoed the sentiments of the other two.

"It is pretty special to share the experience of these camps with the boys from GGS."