'Dragon Tales' is a series of indepth feature stories on some of our top prospects in 2021, exploring their junior careers, their upbringing, the ups and downs of the dealing with COVID complications and more, written by Jonty Ralphsmith. This week we will be focusing on key position player Dante Visentini.
Dante Visentini studies an Italian elective at university to give him native tongue when speaking to extended family.
His paternal grandparents immigrated to Australia in the 1960's and he has been brought up as a prototype, hardworking, good-valued Italian.
But a different language binds his immediate family: footy.
Older sister, Siena, won the VAFA Division one Best and Fairest in 2019 as a ruck for Old Brighton, and his 198cm younger brother is in the Dragons’ under 17’s program. The family home has been the backdrop of an array of wrestling, basketball and other battles between the Visentini brothers, especially during the otherwise mundane lockdown period.
Dad is a physiotherapist, and reputable name at Old Xaverians Football Club providing a source of knowledge and connection for Dante. Mum, Angela, has the Richmond Football Club in her bloodline, as the daughter of Ian Hayden, who played 30 games for the Tigers in the early 1960s.
“I am very fortunate to be able to discuss any injuries and ailments with [dad] and go and get treatment when I need it. He also loves footy, has always been a part of my footy and my brother’s footy,” Visentini said of his dad.
“His interests do lie in sports and a combination of performance and in turn strengthening your body and looking after your body so he’s taught me a lot of things in footy and also how to recover and take care of yourself. I think he imparted his passion for the game on me from an early age.
"Mum sometimes is a bit blinded in support, thinks I did no wrong, which I appreciate. They’re both very knowledgeable about footy so with both mum and dad I can have in depth conversations about a game and growing up with a brother and sister has probably helped as well.
Paul was also president of Dante’s junior footy club, Brighton Beach, for a fair chunk of his career, and encouraged Dante to remember his roots.
“Unashamedly I demanded my kids do certain things to give back and do the right thing. I set up a ‘young guns’ program to help with AusKick and Dante was helping with that, so he was always around the footy club.”
Thus, footy was always Dante's numero uno:
Visentini quit a job he had held for several months at an Italian restaurant when he felt it was affecting his footy.
He is clearly accustomed to Italian cuisine and enjoyed the discipline of his first full-time job.
“I decided to leave because it is very physically demanding having to lift things and do dishes, and it was often Friday night,” Visentini recalled.
“I didn’t want to do hard work the night before footy games. It was good to get the experience of working but then I decided that it was probably a bit too much to juggle with footy.”
Being at peak physical condition is an important attribute for the 201cm Visentini, whose aggression is an eye-catching strength.
'Big Boys Club'
That was the name given to key position training in preseason last year for Sandringham. Former Sandringham coach Josh Bourke kicked the footy high and the big boys competed. As a 17-year-old developing tall, Visentini was determined to show he could match it with the best.
And Bourke took notice.
“He competed not like a tall. He liked the contact, he liked to chase he liked to tackle, he liked to body up and that’s pretty rare for young talls,” he said. “They normally take the time to learn about their bodies.
“The preseason 2020 that we lost, he and Ollie Lord [drafted by Port Adelaide in 2020] were doing some bodywork, nearly to a point where I was telling them both to settle down.
“Dante, as a seventeen-year-old key position player, was cracking in against Ollie. That put some real size and weight on them. He was never shy of being physical and competing which is a great attribute for a tall.
“The brilliance of Dante is that the way he approaches his game with diligence means he will get better because when he gets feedback he’ll act on it – he’s extremely coachable in that regard.
“I go back to a little bit of that mindset which is so redeeming at AFL level. He’s team first and always playing his role.”
Visentini’s dad, Paul, scouted Bourke out as president of Brighton Beach Junior Footy Club, to help the coaches, and the relationship remains strong today.
Dante and Bourke are still regularly in dialogue, and the 18-year-old is part of Bourke’s BD Sports coaching program.
“He’s very good in the way he communicates with kids so he’s an impressive young man, not just as a footballer, but overall,” Bourke said.
Visentini knows he over-celebrated his first NAB League goal.
It came against Eastern, his fourth game, and while he had spent significant time forward, he had yet to kick a goal.
With a set shot from 40 in the second half when the result was sealed, he showed his joy. But he’s not usually like that – a show-off, that is, or a goal-celebrator.
It gave him a chance to show-off his biceps. He put on 15 kilograms since the start of 2019, as he readies himself for senior footy.
“Gym’s something good to do when you’re at home and not doing much.
“A lot of people like to do upper body for the aesthetic, but things which are good for functional strength are things I’ve tried to focus on and [I’ve] always got to find time for a bit of bicep action.”
Yet, keen to maintain his athletic profile, running is a key focus of his lockdowns as he runs often along the beach near his Bayside house, with a friend.
“The one thing I can be proud of is Dante’s goal setting,” said Dad, Paul. “The way he analysed his year and built his year.”
“The way he’s grown into it has been a real credit. He’s stuck to the program and even a little bit more running, he’s got his weights out the back, he’ll do that on a regular basis and regular kicks with his brother and sister, and twice a week with Josh [Bourke].”
17-year-old Dante via St Kilda City coach Jay Austerberry
“He was meticulous with looking after himself. Without him boasting that he wanted to get to the highest level, he actually showed that without having to tell you, through training standards, on-field, off-field, the professionalism, engagement when you’re chatting to him individually.
“You don’t get many kids that have got Dante’s status and are going to rock up on rainy Thursday night and be one of ten kids that puts his hand up and comes to training because he wants to be around his friends.
“In his world as a 16-year-old kid, if you were in that circle of footballers, you always knew who Dante was, but he never had that ego about him.
“When he had to train with us, he’d be there. He’d ride his bike there. First there, last to leave. Ultra-professional. Measured.”
In the next edition of 'Dragons Tales', Dante speaks candidly about his future ahead of the draft in late November.