'Fire Starters' is a series of in-depth feature articles on some of our top prospects in 2022, exploring their journey so far, performances in 2022, and their aspirations for the future, written by Nathan Sepe, Dylan Bolch, and Jonty Ralphsmith.
Will Ashcroft has compiled perhaps the strongest resume of any draft prospect in recent memory.
Larke Medal as Player of the National Championships? Tick. Vic Metro MVP? Tick. Best on Ground in NAB League Grand Final? Tick. Sandringham Dragons Best and Fairest? Tick.
He was named in multiple All-Australian sides, represented his country and captained both the Sandringham Dragons and Vic Metro to premiership glory.
Whilst the individual accolades are extraordinary, Ashcroft’s biggest strength this year and ultimately his legacy, will be his ability to make those around him better footballers and better people.
“It is a great honour to be named captain of the NAB League Team of the Year, there’s been a lot of great players and a lot of great captains within the NAB League this season,” he said.
But as was the case all year, Ashcroft is interested in the performances of his team more than anything else.
“I really enjoyed the year. We were lucky enough to win the premiership which made it that little bit sweeter.
“The run we put together was incredible. The run leading into finals, we were lucky enough to string some good games together.”
Will’s younger brother, Levi, made his NAB League debut in round 10 against the Western Jets, before returning to the side following his APS commitments to play the final five games of the season, becoming a crucial cog in the Sandringham side.
Usually calm and composed, a fire is lit within for Will when playing alongside his younger brother.
“It’s not pre-planned, Levi and I both copped a fair bit of attention throughout the finals series.
“We knew coming into each game there was bound to be a bit of niggle and stuff off the ball, it’s natural and if it’s on it’s on, it is what it is.
“I’ll always back Levi and he’ll always back me.”
Levi also agreed with Will’s sentiments saying that it is “instinctive” for them to protect one another.
“I’m not just going to stand by and let people rough him up,” said Levi.
Internally at the Dragons, the heavy loss against the Eastern Ranges was a significant turning point in the season and Ashcroft’s leadership that day is widely viewed as a key catalyst for setting the side up for a premiership surge.
“It was a tough day, but I think I took a step forward with my leadership that day.
“It was a line in the sand moment for us.”
Ashcroft believes his discussion with the playing group post-match “turned some heads” and help them to become a “completely different team”.
“I’m glad that happened in the end, we had a shift in mindset.
“A key message was that you don’t need to force your moment.
“You don’t have to be a superstar, it’ll come. Buy into the team, play your role and play to the best of your ability.”
Earlier that week, Ashcroft put to bed the media conversations surrounding whether or not he would nominate the Brisbane Lions under the AFL’s father-son rules
Ashcroft’s father, Marcus, is a triple premiership superstar of the club with over 300 games experience on the biggest stage.
“A weight lifted off my shoulders, I was always heavily invested in the Dragons program, but it meant I could switch my focus entirely to that.
“To be following after Dad is a privilege and if I can achieve half of what he did then I would be happy. I am also looking forward to forging my own name.
The Lions certainly have a superstar in Ashcroft and General Manager of Football, Danny Daly was thrilled by Ashcroft’s decision.
“Will is one of the most talented young players in the country and to have him choose the Brisbane Lions to start his AFL career is a huge moment for all involved,” said Daly.
Ashcroft said that the lure of playing alongside Levi at the Lions once more was a significant factor in his decision to nominate the Lions.
Marcus’ influence on both Will and Levi’s football careers has been profound, but the pair say that he acts as more of a support, rather than a coach.
“He wanted to let us forge our own paths and not get caught up with what he achieved,” said Levi.
“He’s there for us when we need him, but he’s never pushed us.”
The Ashcroft’s began their footballing journey in Queensland, before moving to Melbourne several years ago.
“I played my junior footy on the Gold Coast, playing at Broadbeach and then moved over to Southport when it got a bit more serious,” said Will.
“I played two years up and really enjoyed that challenge and I moved into more of the elite pathways when we moved to Melbourne.
“It gave me the chance to play and showcase my talents against the best players in the country, it was awesome for my development.
“We did a lot of research, toured a lot of APS schools, it felt like the right time about three to four years out from the draft.
Having settled now in Melbourne, Ashcroft has thrived, excelling in everything he has put his mind to.
In such a successful season, which moments stood out for Will?
Growing up on the Gold Coast, Ashcroft had lost all four grand finals he had played in.
But 2022 brought newfound success for the gun midfielder and Pittsburgh Steelers fanatic.
"My first thoughts were that I’ve finally won one, how awesome is this.
“It’s a testament to all the hard work everyone put in across the entire club.
“Singing the song in the middle with everyone was pretty symbolic.”
His leadership was instrumental in Sandringham’s barnstorming rampage through the finals.
“I think my leadership style varies a little bit, but my main sort of style would be leading by example, on the track and on game day.
“I think that’s the most important one if you are going to succeed in elite sport.
“On top of that I think the personal side of things is important too, making sure you’re there for each other and forging genuine relationships.
“Picking your moments for when to be hard and when to sympathise is important.”
Ashcroft, a regular golfer, is currently studying Business and Sports Management at Deakin University.
But he’s also ventured down the pathway of creating his own online community.
“Two years ago, I had a dream to implement a vision that is now materialising into WASH Performance.
“I am aiming to promote the importance of driving and dedicating time to becoming the best possible version of yourself, whilst having some fun along the way.”
Ashcroft says WASH Performance aims to provide content and information that allows young people to harness their potential and to perform at the highest level they desire.
“There is a large emphasis on life balance, building life skills and developing healthy habits.”
Ashcroft says that it extends further than just sporting performance and the idea came about after realising that other young people could benefit from his knowledge having just gone through the talent pathways himself.
“I believe that young, aspiring athletes have the desire to succeed but lack guidance and resources to do so.”
Ashcroft said he has been lucky enough to spend time in elite environments growing up, but realised that for many young people, they are not fortunate enough to have these experiences.
And now approaching the AFL draft, Ashcroft cannot wait to officially embark on his AFL journey with the Lions.
“It’s very exciting, it’s been so long since I last played footy.
“Starting off pre-season and getting into footy again will be great.”
As for whether a bid for him at pick one comes, Ashcroft says that he’s “come to terms with it now”.
“It’s not the be all and end all, it would be really nice, I’d like to be pick one, but if it doesn’t eventuate then it is what it is.
“I try not to think about the pressure and attention too much, I think it’s part of the industry, the AFL is a high-pressure industry.”
After putting together arguably the best draft year in history, Ashcroft will most definitely leave a significant footprint on the AFL next year.