Breaking into Sydney's powerful team may appear a tall ask for most rookies but not so Jake Lloyd, who spent much of his teenage years running up and down mountains.
While several of the Swans' premiership heroes battle in the reserves, Lloyd, 20, is making every post a winner. Despite being in only his second season Lloyd, who hails from Adam Goodes' home town of Horsham in Victoria, has made a promising start to his AFL career.
And he may even have brought the Midas touch to the Swans, who overcame a slow start to the year to be premiership favourites approaching the halfway mark of the season. After making his debut in round five, Lloyd is yet to taste defeat in his six games. It continues a stunning run of team success for Lloyd, who has played in premierships in each of the past five years. His haul includes four straight senior flags with his home club the Horsham Demons, the first of which came when he was a 16-year-old up against men.
In his first year as a Swan, he secured a premiership medallion playing in the NEAFL for the club's reserves. "I've been pretty fortunate," Lloyd said.
Despite his extraordinary run of success, AFL took a back seat to basketball for Lloyd.
Lloyd was good enough to play for Victoria Country at under-16s and under-18s level, and won a gold medal at the national championships. But at 180 centimetres, Lloyd's height would always be a big impediment to any professional career in the sport.
"I don't think I could have gone too much further, maybe if I could have put all my efforts into basketball," Lloyd said.
But he did not explore that path, choosing instead to pursue his football with North Ballarat Rebels in the TAC Cup, which is a breeding ground for prospective draft picks.
At the Rebels he was known for his prodigious work ethic. "A lot of kids know their comfort area and Jake can work out of his comfort area," AFL Victoria's talent manager Phil Partington said.
Part of Lloyd's training regimen included morning runs up Mount Arapiles, which rises above the Wimmera plains, sometimes as early as 5.30am.
"It's about 5k up, 5k down. It was a regular thing I did once or twice a week, all those little extras certainly helped," Lloyd said.
"Running up and down hills is a lot different [to track running]. I thought it helped my footy and endurance. Mentally it's pretty challenging at times, it's definitely held me in good stead. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to keep working hard, I thought it would be a good challenge for myself. Dad was doing it, and it's not too far away from home, so it was pretty easy to have a run."
Lloyd's love for training stems from his father, Tony, who runs a personal training business in Horsham. Lloyd also spent time training with former South Sydney and Parramatta conditioner Jimmy Wright before arriving at the Swans.
For intensity, Wright's sessions surpassed even those at pre-season with the Swans, whose program goes for longer.
"I've done some of the most ridiculous sessions that I've ever been put through," Lloyd said. "Those mountain runs in the morning, not just once but twice. Numerous sessions, two to three a day of weights, cardio, pool sessions, getting everything out of me ... for a number of weeks, multiple sessions a day – [it's] the most physical training I've ever done."
The training has held him in good stead for his transition to the Swans senior team, where his speed and endurance have helped him keep out the likes of Ryan O'Keefe and Tom Mitchell from the senior team. "I've worked very hard the last couple of years at the Swans and worked hard previously with my football," Lloyd said. "To be rewarded with that opportunity is an unbelievable feeling, to be playing with some absolute guns in the competition each week."
The story Jake Lloyd says mountain runs helped him prepare for AFL high life with Sydney Swans first appeared on WA Today.