Jacob Edwards' rise and the meeting that clicked him into gear
By Jonty Ralphsmith
When Sandringham coach Jackson Kornberg was asked to chat about Jacob Edwards, he knew that “that meeting” would be discussed.
It was a conversation where he delivered some brutal honesty to Edwards, and a handful of other players, that their intensity at training needed to lift.
“In mid-late Feb we got a group of boys together - and Jacob was in the group - to say they weren’t training hard enough so they needed to step it up or there was no guarantee to make the list,” Kornberg said.
Talent manager Mark Wheeler recalls Kornberg saying: “I think you’re our number four ruckman.”
Edwards’ face dropped.
He thought he was going okay, and Kornberg jokes that “he probably didn't like me for a week or so".
But the coach was right in thinking he would respond positively, dominating the subsequent intra-club games, watching extra vision and initiating further ruck craft sessions prior to training.
That reaction did not surprise Wheeler who saw the rewards of the same determination during lockdown last year.
“He was working his part-time job [at Bunnings Warehouse] and I just walked past him and said ‘Wow mate, you’ve done a lot of work!’,” Wheeler recalled.
His filled-out frame was a testament to a home gym setup and early starts for running and skills sessions with fellow Dragon and close mate Mitch Owens.
“I think his growth in the last six months has been dramatic. I haven’t seen someone take that step that quickly,” Wheeler said.
Now discussed as a top candidate for the midseason draft, Edwards puts his rise down to a mindset shift.
“It was purely my mindset [that changed]. Wanting to be better than others on the track and make myself stand out so I could get noticed a bit more by the coaches," Edwards said.
“That motivated me to keep going and pushed me to work harder.”
Edwards has more reason than most in wanting to repay the coaches’ faith, having been plucked out of Beaumaris Sharks’ division four side as a project player in the 2019 preseason.
Wheeler was watching his son train when he saw Edwards for the first time.
The now 19-year-old said he was a lanky 195-centimetre, 72-kilogram kid back then, but his kicking efficiency and footy nous convinced Wheeler to take a punt.
“I liked him as soon as I saw him. He was quiet and very respectful and he didn’t eat and breathe footy - he had a balance which I liked.”
Despite his skinny frame, Edwards admits he was a junk food loving kid, a practice he has since abandoned.
“Now I’m coming up to a mature age, fat can come onto you so quickly so now I have correct meal plans to make sure I can get to the professional stage of footy,” he said.
Coming in late in the 2019 preseason, Edwards said he initially felt pressure to demonstrate that he belonged, but Wheeler notes that the club always expected Edwards to peak as a 19-year-old.
In his first year at the Dragons, he strengthened his legs and core to develop his leaping ability and burst through tackles, and learned to tap with both hands – a significant point-of-difference to many opponents.
Fast-forward to 2021, the 202-centimetre ruckman is seen as a capable extra midfielder who can push forward.
Edwards’ foot skills remain a strength and his training with Owens in preseason has enhanced his short kicking, with Kornberg noticing greater composure and variety in his kicks.
“He’s able to hit the short pass, particularly when he takes marks on the wing and around the ground," Kornberg said.
“When he does kick it long now, he’s kicking with purpose and to a target which is great."
The draft prospect has remained level-headed amid a media storm, supported by his family and friends, indicating that he will put his hand up for selection.
“[The potential of being drafted] is on my mind every day with everyone talking about me. I’ve been reading all the articles, but I just try to let it not get to my head.
“I know where I’m at now with my footy and where I can go to. If people come up to me and ask questions I’ll answer them, but I’m not gonna go into full detail because nothing’s promised just yet.”
That mentality has impressed Wheeler, who has maintained regular dialogue with him throughout his rapid development.
“I spoke to [Jacob] and his dad after training one night and Jacob said ‘I’m only as good as my next game of footy,’ so he’s actually a very level-headed young man.
“Even to the point where all the player managers were chasing him, and I said ‘what are you going to do?’
“He said ‘I’m not going to do anything until you tell me I’m ready or the AFL clubs think I’m ready’.”
When asked what he would offer an AFL club, Edwards said: “I can offer 100% commitment every time I’m there and regardless of what happens I’m gonna be trying at training and game day.”
Wheeler has seen a similar dedication from Edwards towards his schooling at Mentone Grammar where he does English, further maths, accounting and business management with an eye on studying business at university.
Owens, who has known Edwards since the pair played under nine's footy together, knows him as the supportive friend who can be "a bit of a clown" and loves having fun and cracking jokes on the way into Sandy training.
“He’s a great bloke who’s humble and hard-working,” Owens said.
Edwards missed his most recent match at Mentone with a concussion but has enjoyed being part of his school's undefeated run in the AGSV competition.