Omitted from the Dragons side midway through the season, Jai Florent’s footballing ambitions had taken a hit.
After impressing throughout the school football season and giving glimpses of NAB League X-Factor, the Mentone Grammar student was perhaps a victim of what one may argue was an unprecedented abundance of talent in the Dragons squad, which saw 16 players selected for this year’s National Championships.
Rather than letting the disappointment of NAB League exclusion weigh him down, though, Florent returned to local club Old Mentonians and earned a senior debut.
At the slight frame of 179cm and 65kg, plying his craft against grown men presented a new challenge.
But it was a challenge Florent embraced, impressing with his trademark speed and zip.
“It was a bit disappointing not be able to get back into the [Dragons] side returning from school footy, but it was great being able to go back to Old Mentonians as I got given lots of freedom in how I played and got to really enjoy my footy there,” he reflected.
“Going up against the bigger bodies took a bit to get used to, but it helped me learn how to use my speed and adapt to playing against bigger bodies which I had sometimes struggled with in the past.”
A couple of months down the track, and Florent’s rollercoaster ride of a season had culminated in an invitation to train with the Sydney Swans, joining older brother Ollie.
Another challenge, another opportunity.
“Training in Sydney has been awesome, I’m very grateful I was given the opportunity,” Florent said.
“The standard is definitely a lot different, there is a big difference in the skill level and the speed compared to Dragons and school.
“I adapted by taking a lot more care with my skills and making sure I keep a high speed without rushing.”
Jai (left) with his family in 2016
And one Swan in particular has left Florent in awe.
“Dane Rampe. From sometimes watching from afar and doing some drills with him, the intensity he brings to every drill even including light touch sessions is always at an extremely high level,” he said.
“You can see that reflected when he plays which I really respect.”
Despite older brother Ollie becoming a mainstay in the Swans side on the field, it’s his off-field advice which Florent has particularly absorbed.
“Ollie has been really great in giving me advice,” he said.
“[But] mostly for the off-field side of things, like professionalism and getting the best out of myself at training and off the field.”
On the field, Florent envisions his best football will be played on a wing, despite being deployed predominantly as a small forward at Dragons level.
“I see myself playing my best footy on the wing, but the last 2 years at Dragons I was primarily a small forward, which I found a bit tougher,” he said.
Still, Florent finds the positives in a non-preferred role.
“It was beneficial, as it’s given me some versatility being able to play multiple positions,” he explained.
Wherever the story of Jai Florent may continue beyond 2019, one can be assured it will remain one of buoyancy and optimism.