Mooroolbark teen lands VFL contract

Jett Hartman's never-say-die attitude has opened up a VFL opportunity for him this year. 383135 Picture: SPORTSAU Photography.

By Jonty Ralphsmith

Just over 12 months ago, teenaged Mooroolbark defender Jett Hartman’s career was at a crossroads.

Dismissed by his local Talent League club Eastern Ranges in preseason, Hartman thought the dream was gone.

By June, he was a mainstay of the Oakleigh Chargers backline.

In September, he had several coups including now AFL-listed Zane Duursma and Luke Lloyd – enough to attract mild interest from AFL recruiters.

The year, which amplified the importance of perspective, was topped off in December when he received a VFL contract at Collingwood.

The resilient and footy-loving teen was willing to travel the rugged path to prove his peak was more than merely as a dogged competitor at local level.

A last-minute chance from nearby Talent League club Oakleigh after the Ranges let him go came about because the Chargers are always affected by a large chunk of players missing the middle of the season with school footy, which takes precedent.

But it was Hartman’s ability to compartmentalise and front up which enabled him to play 11 games while riding the tidal wave of emotions that the footy talent pathway releases.

“Once I got cut (from Eastern), I thought that’s my dream right there, it’s sort of been taken away from me,” Hartman reflected.

“I was absolutely shattered. I remember the conversation I had with the Eastern Talent Manager (Danny Ryan) was pretty hard and the next week or so was tough as well, but it’s something you have to deal with and just keep pushing through.”

The Ranges, whom he played a game for in 2022, were aware of his talent but didn’t see him playing a major part in 2023 given it possessed arguably the strongest backline in the competition.

By admission, Hartman wasn’t performing the way he had hoped in preseason and remembers channeling his frustration into match simulation back at Mooroolbark in preseason last year.

“I struggled a bit at times with letting negative thoughts get in and that’s one big improvement – (I’ve just been) able to move on faster,” Hartman said.

Hartman was available from round 7 – when he was offered a list spot – and played every game thereafter.

Strong one-on-one and providing voice and drive out of the back half, his second match was a baptism of fire on top 10 2023 draft selection Nate Caddy.

A deceptively strong game on x-factor Duursma (North Melbourne) and grappling with Eastern’s Riley Weatherill in the last game of the year showed his progress.

“I learned that the best players just keep moving around the stoppage and contest – I’m not the quickest player but I know I’m more physical,” Hartman said.

“My big thing was bodywork and body positioning – going as hard as I can in one-on-ones.

“I think playing (12 senior games for Mooroolbark) helped me get to the right position, intercept and halve contests.”

Many components came together to assist: a dietician helped strengthen him 10 kgs; he trained with like-minded footballers at sports recruiting platform Trainstop; he sought out a sprint coach identifying it as a necessary improvement; and developed his fundamentals through one-on-one sessions with former Collingwood-listed players Tarkyn Lockyer and Josh Fraser.

Another key chapter in 2023 was forging his own reputation at Mooroolbark, divorced from that of Dad, Brett, a Mustangs legend and former Carlton reserves player.

“People would come up to you and say ‘you’re not as good as your Dad’ and that really bothered me early days, but you’ve got to realise you’re two separate people,” Hartman said.

“People have always referenced me to him throughout junior footy but coming in and having really strong performances at senior level has helped me create my own path.”

Those experiences have shaped Hartman’s outlook as he continues his bid to eventually make it onto an AFL list.

“What I’ve learned most from my years in the system is that it changes real quick,” Hartman noted.

“For me, I enjoy the success of others, but I almost focussed on the success of others and tried to help those around me too much, so I was lacking my processes.

“I felt like I almost pushed the person next to me to make sure they could get there but forgot about pushing myself.

“Although not where I dreamed of being, I still think I may be a late developer and hopefully when I hit 22-23, I find my best and that’s when I get on a list.”