More than 30 BSSC footballers gained valuable insights into the game at the highest level today when five players from the Essendon Football Club paid a visit to the college as part of their Bendigo Community Camp.

The group included former BSSC student, Kobe Mutch, now in his fourth year with the club, who hopes 2020 will be a break-out year for him as a Bomber.

“It’s been a bit of a bumpy road so far with injuries,” he told the students, “but hopefully this is the year I can establish a regular spot in the team and get some good footy under my belt.”

He also recalled his time at the college and encouraged students to have a wide range of friends at school.

“It’s good to have a really broad friendship group,” he said. “Not just the guys you play footy with.”

The students also heard from 2018 Best and Fairest winner Devon Smith, half-back flanker Marty Gleeson, pick five in the 2015 National Draft, Darcy Parish, and former Bulldog Premiership player, Jake Stringer.

In a session where the players spoke candidly to students about the joys, challenges and struggles of life as professional athletes, the overwhelming theme was the need to ‘grow up quickly’ and learn how to deal with people from diverse backgrounds.

Devon Smith, who recalled the $50 cheque he received after playing his first game with Lara as a teenager, talked about the struggles of moving interstate after being drafted by the Giants in 2011.

“I was drafted on the Thursday and moved to Sydney on the Sunday… it was a whirlwind,” he said. “I feel so much more relaxed and grounded being back in Melbourne and able to have time away from football with family and friends.”

Smith also spoke about the changing attitudes to mental health since he was first drafted to the AFL.

“Mental health is now treated as an important part of player’s wellbeing,” he said. “The club checks in with players every week and there’s a real sense of ‘it’s okay not to be okay’.”

Marty Gleeson encouraged students to work on their strengths as much as their weaknesses and spoke of the huge toll footballers place on their bodies.

“There’s just so much pressure to hold your spot in the team,” he said, “and injuries just add to that pressure. Even though other players get around you, it can be a lonely time.”

Former Bendigo Pioneer, Jake Stringer, spoke honestly about his struggles with education, leaving school early, and working for his father’s dairy company in Bendigo.

“It made me grow up quickly,” he said. “I’m glad I’d had that experience before I was drafted by the Bulldogs and moved to Melbourne.

The students had lots of questions for the Bomber players, but there was a special hush in the room when one student asked Jake Stringer about the highlight of his career so far and he recalled his last-quarter goal in the 2016 Grand Final that put the Bulldogs a goal in front.

“The roar from the crowd in that moment was deafening… it’s something I’ll never forget.”

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