'Fire Starters' is a series of in-depth feature articles on some of our top prospects in 2022, exploring their performance in 2022, their preparation for the draft, and their aspirations for the future, written by Nathan Sepe, Dylan Bolch, and Jonty Ralphsmith.
Olli Hotton’s rise up the draft rankings in 2022 didn’t come overnight, and Hotton says he always had it in himself to showcase his talent.
Hotton’s name caught the attention of recruiters after his impressive Vic Metro campaign in the Under 18 National Championships.
Whilst Hotton’s start to the season wasn’t as he desired, he still held the belief that his potential was still untouched.
“My biggest improvement this year was taking the game on and playing to my strengths more,” Hotton said.
“It wasn’t as much the skill side of things, it was that mental side of taking the game on and gaining confidence.”
Hotton’s late inclusion to the Vic Metro side was the spark he needed to take his game to the next level, feeling underexposed at school and NAB League levels.
“It was good to get that recognition that I wasn’t going unnoticed completely,” Hotton said.
“It was the confidence boost I needed to know that I wasn’t playing at my best and was still able to get an invite.”
Hotton’s improvement in performance was majorly contributed to Dragons’ coach Wayne Cripps, who was a guiding figure in Hotton’s attributes on the field.
“He really employed me to play to my strengths and he wanted to see me play with confidence,” Hotton said.
“He was the midfield coach at Metro and every quarter-time break he would let me know what I was doing well and keep telling me to back myself.”
“Once I came back to NAB League, he showed that he had trust in me and gave me the green light to just do my thing.”
Hotton’s self-awareness in his game gave him the ability to push himself further, admitting his start to the season was underwhelming for his standards.
“Early on there was the pressure of not putting my foot forward in the first four weeks,” Hotton said.
“I had a delayed head start compared to everyone else and I had to make up that ground for the rest of the year.”
Hotton says that building confidence and overcoming the tentativeness in his game helped him reach new potentials throughout the course of the season.
“Early on I was tentative and would leave the ball for others, not really attacking the footy,” said Hotton.
“The biggest thing I focused on was that I have the strength to be explosive and powerful.”
“Every time I got the ball I felt like my impact per possession was pretty high, and that’s something I pride myself on.”
Back in Dragons colours, Hotton turned it around from the first part of the season compared to the second part.
Hotton averaged 10 disposals, 5.1 kicks, and 5 handballs per game in the first three games of the season, compared to 21.6 disposals, 9 kicks, and 12.6 handballs per game after the Vic Metro games.
Hotton says the opportunities at hand in the Dragons’ finals series gave him every opportunity to right a wrong from the start of the year.
“I took my opportunities as they came and I made the most of pretty much all of them,” Hotton said.
“Whether that be on the field with being pretty clean and not trying to fumble or that one-touch type of play that stands out a little bit, those are things I excelled at.”
Whilst most players are recognised throughout the course of the year for their high possession and impact games, Hotton says his games with lesser stats stood out the most.
“I think at the back end of the year, some of the games that I thought I played better in are the ones I had lesser stats,” Hotton said.
The Quarter Final against Calder Cannons was Hotton’s highlight.
“I only had 14 touches, but I thought I took the game on pretty well, took a decent mark, and felt that every time I touched it I ran with it and did a lot,” Hotton said.
“Each week I wanted to address things that when speaking to recruiters, they hadn’t seen yet.”
Hotton’s biggest achievement during 2022 was undoubtedly the NAB League Premiership, which he says was in the bag before the final siren.
“To be honest, the three-quarter time siren we knew we had it in the bag,” Hotton said.
“The win still brings a smile to my face today. It was such a good reward for a lot of effort.”
Since then, Hotton has completed the National Draft Combine, which he says was an experience that he won’t forget any time soon.
“The first two days were pretty surreal, but it was surprising how much those days drained you,” Hotton said.
“Having interviews all day on the first day and having to back it up with all the fitness testing was pretty tough, but I’m happy with how I went.”
Like many others, Hotton is determined to return to peak fitness levels ahead of the draft, after his VCE exams.
“I’m going to start cracking into a bit of a running program,” Hotton said..
“I’ve got a good three weeks to get my fitness back and be ready for day one.”
The 2022 AFL Draft will take place on the 28th of November with Round 1 selections, and the 29th of November with the remaining rounds.